Voter suppression: Who can’t vote?

Iris Meltzer headshot provided by Iris Meltzer.

Madisyn Woodring

As the 2020 election approaches, Americans are encouraged to vote in order to voice their opinion on current issues. Yet, millions of Americans across the country are having their vote suppressed.

Voter suppression involves making voting difficult, or even impossible for certain groups of people.

Sabrina Harris is a policy strategist at the Ohio ACLU. She claims voter ID requirements can be a common form of voter suppression.

“If you are going to go in person on election day, you are required to have some form of ID that is typically tied to a residence,” Harris said. “So if you take for example someone that is facing housing instability, that can be a barrier to voting.”

Voter ID requirements can also be a barrier to transgender voters if their gender identity after transitioning does not match their current ID, Harris said.

“Those that are typically disenfranchised, I think often, those are the people or communities that have so much at stake from the decisions that our elected officials make,” Harris said.

Another form of voter suppression is the small number of mail-in ballot drop boxes, Iris Meltzer, the President of the League of Women Voters of Ohio said.

She noticed there is only one dropbox per county to deposit ballots. For example, the Portage county dropbox is at the Board of Elections in Ravenna.

“That’s fine, except there are places in the county, where if you don’t have your own transportation, you can’t get to Ravenna,” Meltzer said. “So, again, that’s going to impact seniors, folks with some disabilities, and people without finances that allow them to either hire a driver or have their own vehicle.”

Meanwhile, some individuals are completely stripped of their right to vote. This commonly happens to people with felony charges.

Ohio does not have the strictest laws regarding felony disenfranchisement compared to other states, Harris said. Once people with felony charges finish serving their sentence, they are allowed to re-register to vote. Meanwhile, people incarcerated on a misdemeanor offense never have their right to vote taken away.

Christopher Dum is a sociology professor at Kent State with a focus on the criminal justice system. He said felon disenfranchisement largely affects African Americans and people in poverty.

For example, black adults are almost six times as likely to be imprisoned than white adults, according to the Sentencing Project.

Also, in states like Florida, those with felony charges who finished their sentences are required to pay off fines before being allowed to register to vote, Dum said. This can be an obstacle to people who do not have the funds available.

“So when we talk about using the system and how it works, basically my question is always like, well, why would people in power want to have this punishment?” Dum said. “Why would someone want to enact these laws, right?”

 The criminal justice system can be used as a way to protect the interests of people in power, Dum said.

However, groups like the League of Women Voters are working towards lessening voter suppression.

The League is in two state-level lawsuits regarding signature mismatch and the number of ballot drop boxes per county, Meltzer said. The League also provides educational material about voting on their website.

“Ensuring that every voter has the right to cast their ballot has been a main thrust of the League of Women Voters since its inception 100 years ago,” Meltzer said.

Contact Madisyn Woodring at [email protected].