Voter Suppression Policies are Making a Comeback This Election Cycle

Widespread efforts to suppress voter turnout are an affront to civil liberties

October 17, 2018

Reports from this past week of aggressive and miscalculating voter purging practices, in which eligible voters are removed from voter registration lists by way of often erroneous information, have highlighted a serious civil rights problem. This is drawing indignant criticism and playing a key role in the run-up to this year’s midterm elections.

In a report released this year, the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy and law institute, found that the growth in the number of purged voters has far outpaced that of both the total registered voters and total population. This reality carries with it a devastating consequence: in certain states, otherwise eligible voters are often routinely disenfranchised.

This practice can be sourced, in large part, to a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which found two provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. One of the ruled upon provisions required that certain states and localities obtain federal preclearance prior to enacting any changes to their voting laws or practices. Based on histories of voting discrimination, the other provision determined the jurisdictions subject to those preclearance requirements. The decision has had a clear and direct impact on voter turnout.

Aggressive voter purge practices covered in the Brennan Center report portend a similar threat to all marginalized communities in this election cycle and beyond. In Georgia, 70% of the 53,000 held up voter registration applications are from African American Georgians. In Texas, more than 2,000 potential voters had their registration applications rejected under questionable pretenses. In North Dakota, a recently signed voter identification law has predominantly targeted Native American North Dakotans. In Ohio, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld a controversial law which purges voters from the registration rolls if they don’t vote in two federal election cycles. In Nevada, over 90,000 voters were purged from registration rolls by way of an unreliable postcard removal scheme. In Wisconsin, 17,000 eligible voters from predominantly African-American counties were purged from registration rolls due to aggressive voter suppression laws.

American Muslims must recognize that such practices are not an aberration, but endemic to the current political landscape. Under the guise of combating voter fraud, many GOP-controlled states and localities are rolling back gains made during the Civil Rights era. In many cases, these practices function to reelect Republican candidates whose policies would negatively impact either American Muslim populations or other predominantly marginalized communities. While voter purge and disenfranchisement laws have typically been meant to suppress voter turnout among underrepresented communities, it is notable that this re-emerging trend has occurred at the same time as the increase in American Muslim candidates for political office.

The 2020 presidential election is fast approaching, and with it comes the possibility of redrawn congressional and legislative maps which only perpetuate oppressive rollbacks and further the marginalization of our communities. This dynamic underscores the necessity for voter engagement and participation from all.

You can check your respective state’s voter registration deadlines here, and follow this link if you would like to register to vote or check your voter registration status.

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