How States Can, and Will, Suppress The Vote

Voter suppression is the discouragement or prevention of citizens from voting and is a strategy often used to influence the outcome of an election.


One of the root causes of low turnout for midterm and general elections is the prevalence of restrictive voting laws. The modern GOP generally tries to make it harder to vote, because obstacles to voting tend to hit key Democratic constituencies—young people, low-income people, minorities—the hardest. 

In 2013, the high court struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. No longer would areas of the country with a history of discrimination in voting be required to pre-clear all changes in voting laws and procedures.

“Our country has changed,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the conservative five-justice majority. Nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, he said, instances of blatant race-based discrimination were rare. And now we are here.

Ten Ways to Suppress Voting

1.”Exact Match” Registration:

The “exact match” law requires election officials to flag and pause any voter registration application if the identifying information doesn’t precisely match the voter’s information in existing records, even because of something as small as a missing hyphen or a transposed number. Although voters are not barred from casting a ballot, they must take extra steps to verify their identities.

Legal Response:

 A coalition of civil rights groups sued Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state and Republican gubernatorial candidate, in his official capacity Thursday over a 2017 voting law that has hampered the registrations of more than 50,000 people — of whom approximately 80 percent are black, Latino or Asian American, according to the lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Atlanta.

2.  Voter ID

Voter ID is when a registered voter must show ID in order to vote.

States with No Voter ID Laws

California, Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts,  New York, Maryland, Vermont,  New Jersey,
DC, Pennsylvania, North Carolina

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 34 states have voter ID laws, which will be in force for the 2018 mid-term elections.

Examples of ID:

Photo ID: Voter ID card, driver’s license, state ID, military ID, passport, hunting or fishing license or other current or valid photo ID.
No-photo ID:  current utility bill or paycheck, government check or bank statement or other government issued document.

If a voter fails to show the photo ID that is asked for by law, states provide alternatives. These laws fit two categories, non-strict and strict. 

States with Strict Voter ID Laws

Requiring photo ID: Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia,  Wisconsin
Requiring a no-photo ID: Arizona, North Dakota, Ohio

States with Non-strict Voter ID Laws

Requiring photo ID: Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma,  Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas
Requiring a no-photo ID: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire,  Utah, Washington, West Virginia

Who do these laws affect the most? 

Poor and Minority Communities 

Minorities are less likely to have driver’s licenses because they are more likely to be poor and to live in urban areas. If you can’t afford a car, or if you don’t need one because you take the bus or subway, you are less likely to have a driver’s license. Nor will they have the other forms of ID: passports, military IDs, concealed gun permits.  In addition, each  person is less likely to be listed on a utility bill.

Native American Voters

When Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota narrowly won her seat in North Dakota, Republicans changed a voter identification law in the state. They stopped allowing any voter identification that lists a post office box as an address. The reason for the change is that her support base was Native Americans and they use post office boxes as the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver to their communities.

Young student voters

Young student voters are not likely to have a drivers license as a smaller portion of students have a drivers license today than in the 1980s. They are also less likely to be listed on a utility bill.

Students attending out of state colleges  are also less likely to have other forms of ID commonly required by state laws.  Some states accept a student ID on its own, but several do not — even when it is issued by a public university and includes a photo.    In addition, states including Texas don’t allow student IDs, a policy that clearly hinders younger voters.

Elderly voters over 85

Elderly voters — like black and Latino voters — are more likely to lack photo ID than the voting population overall as they have stopped driving.

Legal Responses:

On October 9, 2018, the Supreme Court decided 6 to 2 to leave in place a North Dakota  law that requires residents to provide an ID displaying a residential address rather than a P.O. box number to vote.

In response, Native American voting rights activists in North Dakota have launched an audacious plan aimed at pushing back against a Supreme Court ruling that threatens the reelection of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp — and that could decide the fate of the Senate in the process.

The biggest win for voting rights advocates was in North Carolina in 2016,  where a federal appeals court panel unanimously threw out not only the voter ID requirements, but numerous other provisions that the court said were enacted with the intent of making it harder for minorities to vote. The judges pointedly observed that Republican leaders drew up the new laws in North Carolina only after receiving data showing that African-American voters would be the most significantly and adversely affected. “We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history,” the panel wrote.

Similar rulings followed in Wisconsin, Ohio and South Dakota. And in Kansas, a state with a foreign-born population of 6.8 percent, courts have repeatedly rejected efforts by the Republican secretary of state to require voters to provide proof of citizenship to vote.

In July 2016 a federal court ruled that Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law was unconstitutional, and that an alternative to showing an ID, such as signing an affidavit attesting to identity, must be permitted.

A 2011 Texas strict photo ID laws has been in the courts since its passage. On April 10, 2017 a federal judge ruled, for the second time, that the law discriminated against minority voters. On June 2, 2017 SB 5 enacted non-strict, photo voter ID requirement.

3 . Early Voting Cuts:

Ohio cut a whole week from early voting, eliminating the “golden week” in which voters could register and vote on the same day. And Nebraska cut its early voting period from 35 days to no more than 30 days. 

Who does this affect?  Parents with full-time jobs who cannot afford to take unpaid time off work to vote. For many working parents, the ability to vote by mail or through early in-person voting on weekends is critical. However, a number of states, give residents neither the option to vote early in person nor the option to vote by mail (without satisfying certain requirements).

4. New requirements to register to vote:

Kansas passed a law that requires new voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote. Virginia also required groups submitting 25 or more voter registration forms to register with the state, and reduced the amount of time to deliver the forms from 15 days to 10 days.

5. Limits on mail-in ballots: 

Arizona made it a felony to collect and turn in someone else’s mail-in ballot, even with that voter’s permission.

6. Provisional and absentee voting changes: 

Ohio passed strict rules that can invalidate absentee and provisional ballots if forms accompanying those ballots aren’t filled out in a very specific way.

7. Polling place closures:

Southern states, from Arizona to North Carolina, have closed down at least 868 polling places since the US Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. (The Voting Rights Act could have allowed the Department of Justice to stop these closures before, but not anymore.) These are only the closures tracked in about half the counties that were once covered by the Voting Rights Act due to their long histories of racial discrimination, so there have likely been hundreds or even thousands more closures nationwide.

8. Voter roll purges:

Several states have attempted to conduct sweeping purges of voter rolls, potentially undoing voters’ registration without their knowledge. Some of these purges — such as North Carolina’s and Florida’s — have been overturned by courts, but not all are even known to the public until it’s too late.  In June 2018, a divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s method for removing ineligible voters from its rolls, saying it does not violate any part of the National Voter Registration Act.

9. Reduction in state services: 

When Alabama, for example, was required to offer a free alternative to a driver’s license, it responded by closing Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in areas with large black populations.

These are just some examples of an organized effort toward voter suppression in the United States.  Others include disinformation about voting procedures, transgender disenfranchisement, and inequality in Election Day resources. Many Americans who have been convicted of a felony but are now out of prison, on parole or on probation may want to vote, but many states have laws that expressly limit their voting rights.

10. Gerrymandering

The nation’s 435 House districts are adjusted after each decennial census. The goal, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court, is to make sure that, in states with more than one House member, the congressional districts have roughly the same number of people. (State legislative districts are redrawn as well.)  

At present, Republicans control 67 of the 99 chambers and control both chambers in 32 states. The party that controls two branches of state government can steer the direction of elections for a decade. Gerrymandering works by Party A “packing,” or cramming many of Party B’s voters into a few districts that it will win overwhelmingly, with many (wasted) votes to spare. The other technique, “cracking,” splinters Party B’s voters among multiple districts so that it can’t prevail in any of them. To counter the influence of politics, Some states have have shifted redistricting responsibility to an independent or bipartisan board or commission. Others have not.

Legal Responses:

This past February, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has redrawn the map of the state’s congressional districts, overturning a Republican gerrymander that’s been used in the past three congressional elections.

Yet in June, the Supreme Court favored Republicans in other states accused of gerrymandering.



Take action through the League of Women Voters :” We actively oppose discriminatory voter photo ID laws, fight against attacks voter registration process and hold lawmakers accountable when they try to institute last-minute Election Day barriers. We work year-round to combat voter suppression through advocacy, grassroots organizing, legal action and public education. Our efforts have resulted in the protection of voting rights and ballot access for millions of Americans.”

Dissent, an online magazine published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, offers concrete straggles in  How To Fight Voter Suppression in 2018.

Donate to ACLU.  “Through litigation and advocacy, the ACLU is fighting back against attempts to curtail an essential right in our democracy, the right to vote. ​”

State lawmakers have had more latitude than ever to enact laws affecting whether, how and when one can vote in a federal election. Become involved in state elections. My prior post This Land Is Your Land tells you how.


“My story is a freedom song of struggle. It is about finding one’s purpose, how to overcome fear and to stand up for causes bigger than one’s self.”

                                                                    Coretta Scott King

About Debra29

I am a retired public school teacher who believes that a strong democracy rests on the shoulders of its citizens. This blog was created as a central resource of civic engagement. Together, we can make a difference. Follow me on Twitter: Determined@2AlterTheCourse
This entry was posted in Midterm Elections, Voter Suppression, Voting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.