By Adrienne Welch
“Voter Suppression” is an offensive term that flies in the face of freedom and equality. The targets include African Americans, Latinos, college students, older people, and rural residents.
At this moment, a number of states and organizations are engaged in efforts to make it harder for certain groups of American citizens to register to vote or cast a ballot in an election. Various lawsuits have challenged those efforts.
Probably the most obvious voter suppression tactic is the growing slate of photo ID laws, but the nefarious methods don’t end there. Election day, itself, has been known to turn up suspicious instances of voting machines that suddenly don’t work properly or names that have “mysteriously” disappeared from voting rolls.
Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), weighing in on voter suppression, recently said “the ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote than it was one year ago.”
The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—ratified in 1870–provided specifically that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The following year, Congress enacted the Enforcement Act, which contained criminal penalties for interference with the right to vote. That same year, the Force Act of 1871 was enacted to provide for federal election oversight.
However, many states found ways to get around that historic 15th amendment and subsequent laws.
Voter suppression today has been compared to the infamous Jim Crow– segregation laws in the 1950s and 1960s that were used to restrict the rights of Black citizens. In years past, Jim Crow maneuvers included poll taxes, literacy tests, and ridiculous and random voter registration requirements such as determining the number of beans in a jar at the registrar’s office. If those measures didn’t have the desired effect, there were always delaying tactics and mind games.
My parents, Dorothy and Warner Welch, experienced the humiliation firsthand during the Civil Rights Era. My mother recounted one of the occasions when she and others went to the voter registration office in Bessemer, AL.
“They talked to us like dogs,” she said. “(They) told us to stand against the wall and wait. And we waited and waited until we were informed that it was closing time, and that we’d have to come back another day to register to vote.”
African Americans fought long and hard for the right to vote. Passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the culmination of that fight.
When I reached voting age, I did not face those hurdles because they had already been knocked down by countless people — black and white, young and old– who rebelled against endless injustices. I was in high school when my grandmother, Odessa Robinson, boarded a bus with others from her community in Birmingham, AL, and rode to Selma to take part in the Selma to Montgomery March that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So, what can you do to make sure your voice is heard on Election Day? First, check to see if your voter registration information is up-to-date. Do everything possible to secure an approved form of voter identification—a hardship for many elderly citizens. If you’re not a registered voter, take care of that today.
If you have the time, maybe you could volunteer to work with a group to register prospective voters or help voters secure the required ID. Organizations such as the NAACP, The League of Women Voters, and Georgia Latino Vote 2012 are actively involved in registering voters.
Every election is important, but in November, a crucial election will take place. The General Election will decide who leads our country for the next four years.
Take action now, so you can exercise your right to vote on Election Day.
Adrienne Welch. Is an Alabama native and longtime Atlanta resident, teacher, writer, and musician.