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Voter suppression in the United States

Voter suppression in the United States concerns allegations about various efforts, legal and illegal, used to prevent eligible voters from exercising their right to vote. Where found, such voter suppression efforts vary by state, local government, precinct, and election.



Purging of voter rollsEdit

In 2008, more than 98,000 registered Georgia voters were removed from the roll of voters because of a computer mismatch in their personal identification information. Some 4,500 voters had to prove their citizenship to regain their right to vote.[1] Between November 2015 and early 2016, over 120,000 voters were dropped from rolls in Brooklyn, NYC.[2] Officials have stated that the purge was a mistake and that those dropped represented a "broad cross-section" of the electorate. However an WNYC analysis found that the purge had disproportionately affected majority-Hispanic districts. The board announced that it would reinstate all voters in time for the 2016 Congressional primary.[3] The Board of Elections subsequently suspended the Republican appointee in connection to the purge, but kept on her Democratic counterpart.[4]

In 1998, Florida created the Florida Central Voter File to combat vote fraud documented in the 1997 Miami mayoral election. Many people were purged from voter registration lists in Florida, because their names were similar to those of convicted felons, who are not allowed to vote under Florida law. According to the Palm Beach Post, African-Americans accounted for 88% of those removed from the rolls but were only about 11% of Florida's voters.[5]

Limitations on early and absentee votingEdit

Cutbacks in early voting disproportionately affect African American voters who vote early in higher proportions than white voters. In 2012, in Ohio, African American voters voted early at more than 2 times the rate of white voters.[6] In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers requested data on various voting practices, broken down by race. They then passed laws that restricted voting and registration many ways that disproportionally affected African Americans, including cutting back on early voting.[7][8] In a 2016 appellate court case, the 4th US District Court of Appeals struck down a law that removed the first week of early voting. They wrote that the GOP used the data they gathered to remove the first week of early voting because more African American voters voted during that week, and African American voters were more likely to vote for Democrats.[9] Between 2008 and 2012 in North Carolina, 70% of African American voters voted early.[6] After cuts to early voting, African American turnout in early voting was down by 8.7% (around 66,000 votes) in North Carolina.[10][11]

Disinformation about voting proceduresEdit

Voters may be given false information about when and how to vote, leading them to fail to cast valid ballots. For example, in recall elections for the Wisconsin State Senate in 2011, Americans for Prosperity (a conservative organization that was supporting Republican candidates) sent many Democratic voters a mailing that gave an incorrect deadline for absentee ballots. Voters who relied on the deadline in the mailing would have sent in their ballots too late for them to be counted.[12] The organization said that the mistake was a typographical error.[13]

Caging listsEdit

Caging lists have been used by political parties to eliminate potential voters registered with other political parties. A political party sends registered mail to addresses of registered voters. If the mail is returned as undeliverable, the mailing organization uses that fact to challenge the registration, arguing that because the voter could not be reached at the address, the registration is fraudulent.[14]

Historical examplesEdit

1838 Gallatin County Election Day BattleEdit

William Peniston, a candidate for the Missouri state legislature, made disparaging statements about the Mormons[15] and warned them not to vote in the election.[16] Reminding Daviess County residents of the growing electoral power of the Mormon community, Peniston made a speech in Gallatin claiming that if the Missourians "suffer such men as these [Mormons] to vote, you will soon lose your suffrage." Around 200 non-Mormons gathered in Gallatin on election day to prevent Mormons from voting.[17]

When about thirty Latter Day Saints approached the polling place, a Missourian named Dick Weldon declared that Mormons were not allowed to vote in Clay County. One of the Mormons present, Samuel Brown, claimed that Peniston's statements were false and then declared his intention to vote. This triggered a brawl between the bystanders.[15] The Mormons called upon the Danites, a Mormon vigilante group,[17] and the Missourians left the scene to obtain guns and ammunition and swore to kill the Mormons.[16] The skirmish is often cited as the first serious violence of the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, which included the Missourians sacking the Mormon settlement of De Witt, the Mormons sacking non-Mormon homes in Daviees County, the Battle of Crooked River, the Haun's Mill Massacre and the eventual expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri under Missouri Executive Order 44.

Jim Crow lawsEdit

In the United States, voter suppression was used in most Southern states by democrats, who were conservatives during the Jim Crow era, until the Voting Rights Act (1965) made most disenfranchisement and voting qualifications illegal. Traditional voter suppression tactics included the institution of poll taxes and literacy tests, aimed at suppressing the votes of African Americans and poor white working class voters.[18][19]

2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandalEdit

In the 2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal, Republican officials attempted to reduce the number of Democratic voters by paying professional telemarketers in Idaho to make repeated hang-up calls to the telephone numbers used by the Democratic Party's ride-to-the-polls phone lines on election day. By tying up the lines, voters seeking rides from the Democratic Party would have more difficulty reaching the party to ask for transportation to and from their polling places.[20][21]

2004 presidential electionEdit

Allegations surfaced in several states that a private group, Voters Outreach of America, which had been empowered by the individual states, had collected and submitted Republican voter registration forms while inappropriately discarding voter registration forms where the new voter had chosen to register with the Democratic Party. Such people would believe they had registered to vote, and would only discover on election day that they were not registered and could not cast a ballot.[22][23][24][25]

Michigan Republican state legislator John Pappageorge was quoted as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election."[26]

In 2006, four employees of the John Kerry campaign were convicted of slashing the tires of 25 vans rented by the Wisconsin state Republican Party which were to be used for driving Republican voters and monitors to the polls. At the campaign workers' sentencing, Judge Michael B. Brennan told the defendants, "Voter suppression has no place in our country. Your crime took away that right to vote for some citizens."[27][28]

2006 Virginia Senate electionEdit

During the Virginia U.S. Senate election, Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections Jean Jensen concluded that incidents of voter suppression appeared widespread and deliberate. Documented incidents of voter suppression include:[29]

  • Democratic voters receiving calls incorrectly informing them voting will lead to arrest.
  • Widespread calls fraudulently claiming to be "[Democratic Senate candidate Jim] Webb Volunteers," falsely telling voters their voting location had changed.
  • Fliers paid for by the Republican Party, stating "SKIP THIS ELECTION" that allegedly attempted to suppress African-American turnout.

The FBI has since launched an investigation into the suppression attempts.[30][clarification needed] Despite the allegations, Democrat Jim Webb narrowly defeated incumbent George Allen.

2008 presidential electionEdit

A review of states' records by The New York Times found unlawful actions leading to widespread voter purges.[31]

A dispute between the Social Security Administration commissioner and the National Association of Secretaries of State about the use of the Social Security database to test the validity of voters led to the shutdown of the database over the Columbus Day holiday weekend.[32]


Before the presidential election, on September 16, 2008, Obama legal counsel announced that they would be seeking an injunction to stop an alleged caging scheme in Michigan wherein the state Republican party would use home foreclosure lists to challenge voters still using their foreclosed home as a primary address at the polls.[33][34] Michigan GOP officials called the suit "desperate".[35] A Federal Appeals court ordered the reinstatement of 5,500 voters wrongly purged from the voter rolls by the state.[36]


The conservative nonprofit Minnesota Majority reportedly made phone calls claiming that the Minnesota Secretary of State had concerns about the validity of voters' registration. Their actions have been referred to the Ramsey County attorney's office.[37]


The Republican Party attempted to have all 60,000 voters in the heavily Democratic city of Milwaukee who had registered since January 1, 2006, deleted from the voter rolls. The requests were rejected by the Milwaukee Election Commission, although Republican commissioner Bob Spindell voted in favor of deletion.[38]

2010 Maryland gubernatorial electionEdit

In the Maryland gubernatorial election in 2010, the campaign of Republican candidate Bob Ehrlich hired a consultant who advised that "the first and most desired outcome is voter suppression", in the form of having "African-American voters stay home."[39] To that end, the Republicans placed thousands of Election Day robocalls to Democratic voters, telling them that the Democratic candidate, Martin O'Malley, had won, although in fact the polls were still open for some two more hours.[40] The Republicans' call, worded to seem as if it came from Democrats, told the voters, "Relax. Everything's fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight."[39] The calls reached 112,000 voters in majority-African American areas.[40] In 2011, Ehrlich's campaign manager, Paul Schurick, was convicted of fraud and other charges because of the calls.[39][40] In 2012, he was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, a one-year suspended jail sentence, and 500 hours of community service over the four years of his probation, with no fine or jail time.[41] The Democratic candidate won by a margin of more than 10 percent.

2015 early voting controversy in MarylandEdit

In Maryland's Montgomery County, Republicans planned to move two early-voting sites from densely populated Bethesda and Burtonsville to more sparsely populated areas in Brookville and Potomac. They claimed to be aiming for more "geographic diversity"; Democrats accused them of trying to suppress the vote. The Burtonsville site had the most minority voters of all the early-voting sites in the county, while the proposed new locations were in more Republican-friendly areas with fewer minority residents.[42]

2016 presidential electionEdit

The 2016 presidential election was the first in 50 years without all the protections of the original Voting Rights Act. Fourteen states had new voting restrictions in place, including swing states such as Virginia and Wisconsin.[43][44][45][46]


In early 2016, a state judge struck down a law requiring voters to show proof of citizenship, in cases where the voter had used a national voter registration form. In May, a federal judge ordered the state of Kansas to begin registering approximately 18,000 voters whose registrations had been delayed because they had not shown proof of citizenship. Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach ordered that the voters be registered, but not for state and local elections. In July, a county judge struck down Kobach's order. Kobach has been repeatedly sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for trying to restrict voting rights in Kansas.[47][48]

New YorkEdit

An audit was started in April 2016 after 125,000[49] voters in Brooklyn were removed from voter rolls and voters had trouble accessing polling sites.[50]

North CarolinaEdit

In 2013, the state House passed a bill that requires voters to show a photo ID issued by North Carolina, a passport, or a military identification card to begin in 2016. Out-of-state drivers licenses were to be accepted only if the voter registered within 90 days of the election, and university photo identification was not acceptable.[51] In July 2016, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a trial court decision in a number of consolidated actions and struck down the law's photo ID requirement, finding that the new voting provisions targeted African Americans "with almost surgical precision," and that the legislators had acted with clear "discriminatory intent" in enacting strict election rules, shaping the rules based on data they received about African-American registration and voting patterns.[52][53] On May 15, 2017, the law officially died when the US Supreme Court rejected efforts to review the Appeals Court ruling.[54]

North DakotaEdit

An ID law in North Dakota which would have disenfranchised large numbers of Native Americans was overturned in July 2016. The judge wrote, "The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals that voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent."[48]


Since 1994, Ohio has had a policy of purging infrequent voters from the rolls. In April 2016, a lawsuit was filed, challenging this policy on the grounds that it violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA)[55] and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.[56] In June, the federal district court ruled for the plaintiffs, and entered a preliminary injunction applicable only to the November 2016 election. The preliminary injunction was upheld in September by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Had it not been upheld, thousands of voters would have been purged from the rolls just a few weeks before the election.[55]


In July 2016, a federal appeals court found that Texas's voter ID law discriminated against black and Hispanic voters because only a few types of ID were allowed; for example, military IDs and concealed carry permits were allowed, but state employee photo IDs and university photo IDs were not.[57]


In Wisconsin, a federal judge found that the state's restrictive voter ID law led to "real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities"; and, given that there was no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin, found that the law was "a cure worse than the disease." In addition to imposing strict voter ID requirements, the law cut back on early voting, required people to live in a ward for at least 28 days before voting, and prohibited emailing absentee ballots to voters.[48] A study by Priorities USA, a progressive advocacy group, estimates that strict ID laws in Wisconsin led to a significant decrease in voter turnout in 2016, with a disproportionate effect on African-American and Democratic-leaning voters.[58][59]


Election Integrity Commission and CrosscheckEdit

In May 2017, Donald Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, purportedly for the purpose of preventing voter fraud. Critics have suggested its true purpose is voter suppression. The commission was led by Kansas attorney general and Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach, a staunch advocate of strict voter ID laws and a proponent of the Crosscheck system. Crosscheck is a national database designed to check for voters who are registered in more than one state by comparing names and dates of birth. Researchers at Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and Microsoft found that for every legitimate instance of double registration it finds, Crosscheck's algorithm returns approximately 200 false positives..[60] Kobach has been repeatedly sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights organizations for trying to restrict voting rights in Kansas.[47] On February 20, 2016, while speaking to a committee of Kansas 2nd Congressional District delegates, regarding their challenges of the proof-of-citizenship voting law he championed in 2011, Kobach said, "The ACLU and their fellow communist friends, the League of Women Voters — you can quote me on that, sued".[61]

Often, voter fraud is cited as a justification for such measures, even when the incidence of voter fraud is low. In Iowa, lawmakers passed a strict voter ID law with the potential to disenfranchise 260,000 voters. Out of 1.6 million votes cast in Iowa in 2016, there were only 10 allegations of voter fraud; none were cases of impersonation that a voter ID law could have prevented. Only one person, a Republican voter, was convicted. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, the architect of the bill, admitted, "We've not experienced widespread voter fraud in Iowa."[62]


In 2018, critics have accused the state of intentionally disenfranchising non-white voters,aided by the Supreme Court which, in its Shelby County v. Holder 5-4 decision, allowed jurisdictions with a history of suppression of minority voters to avoid continuing to abide by federal preclearance requirements for changes in voter registration and casting of ballots.[63] Within 24 hours of the ruling, Alabama implemented a 2011 law requiring specific types of photo I.D. to be presented. The state closed DMV offices in eight of ten counties which had the highest percentage black population, but only three in the ten counties with the lowest black population. In 2016, Alabama's Secretary of State (SOS) John Merrill began a process to require proof of citizenship from voters, despite Merrill saying he did not know of a single case where a non-citizen had voted. Purging of voter rolls is another method of disenfranchisement and it was done so aggressively in Alabama. Even four-term Republican Representative Mo Brooks who, in March 2018, was rated the House's least bipartisan member by The Lugar Center and who was a candidate in 2017, for the seat relinquished by Jeff Sessions, found that he himself had been purged from the rolls. Merrill also refused to publicize the passage of legislation that enabled some 60,000 Alabaman former felons to vote.[64].[65] Alabama's new requirement regarding proof of citizenship, had been approved by federal Election Assistance Commission Director Brian Newby, an associate of voter disenfranchisement advocate, Kansas SOS and Republican Gubernatorial nominee, Kris Kobach.[66] Kobach was cited as a primary author of Alabama HB 56, passed in 2010, which was described as tougher than Arizona's law.[67] Much of the law was invalidated on appeal at various levels of appeals courts or voluntarily withdrawn or reworded.[68] [69][70]


In Louisville, Georgia, in October 2018, Black senior citizens were told to get off a bus that was to have taken them to a polling place for early voting. The bus trip was supposed to have been part of the "South Rising" bus tour sponsored by the advocacy group Black Voters Matter. A clerk of the local Jefferson County Commission allegedly called the intended voters' senior center to claim that the bus tour constituted "'political activity,'" which is barred at events sponsored by the county. Latosha Brown, one of the founders of Black Voters Matter, described the trip's prevention as a clear-cut case of "'voter intimidation. This is voter suppression, Southern style.'" The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter to the county calling for an "'immediate investigation'" into the incident, which it condemned as "'an unacceptable act of voter intimidation'" that "'potentially violates several laws.'"[71]

Georgia's Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, was the official in charge of determining whether or not voters will be allowed to vote in the November 2018 election and has been accused of voter suppression. Despite being prevented by a court from implementing wholesale disenfranchisement, thanks to Kemp's "Exact Match" policy, the state legislature wrote a new law in 2017 that facilitates use of the strategy. Minority voters are statistically more likely to have names that contain hyphens, suffixes or other punctuation that can make it more difficult to match their name in databases, experts noted, and are more likely to have their voter applications suspended by Kemp's office. Barry C. Burden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of its Elections Research Center said, "An unrealistic rule of this sort will falsely flag many legitimate registration forms. Moreover, the evidence indicates that minority residents are more likely to be flagged than are whites." Kemp has suspended the applications of 53,000 voters, a majority of whom are minorities. "Even if everyone who is on a pending list is eventually allowed to vote, it places more hurdles in the way of those voters on the list, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic," said Charles Stewart III, Professor of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[72]

Georgia officials kept hundreds of voting machines locked in warehouses on Election Day 2018, creating a shortage at the polls.[73] This led to hours-long lines, which act as a deterrent to voters who had to work or take care of children.


In 2017, Indiana passed a law allowing the state to purge voters from the rolls without notifying them, based on information from the controversial Crosscheck system. The Indiana NAACP and League of Women Voters have filed a federal lawsuit against Connie Lawson, Indiana's Secretary of State, to stop the purges.[74] In June 2018, a federal judge ruled that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act.[75]

North DakotaEdit

In September, a federal circuit court of appeals reversed an earlier ruling that struck down a law requiring voters to have a residential street address. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.[76][77]


In February 2017, Ohio Secretary of State Jon A. Husted, a Republican, asked the United States Supreme Court to review the appellate court decision that prevented the state from purging infrequent voters from the rolls. The case was accepted; oral arguments in Husted v. Randolph Institute were heard on November 8.[55][78] The Court issued its decision on June 10, 2018, ruling 5–4 that Ohio's law did not violate federal laws.


In Texas, a voter ID law requiring a driver's license, passport, military identification, or gun permit, was repeatedly found to be intentionally discriminatory. The state's election laws could be put back under the control of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, the DOJ has expressed support for Texas's ID law.[79] (Sessions was accused by Coretta Scott King in 1986 of trying to suppress the black vote.)[80]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit