Black Voter Suppression, COVID-19 and the 2020 Presidential Election
As the United States begins lifting quarantine restrictions in some states and as citizens join Black Lives Matter protests across the country, the combined effect these actions will have on future COVID-19 outbreaks is still unknown. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that black communities and other racial minorities have been impacted disproportionately by the virus itself, exhibiting significantly higher death rates in comparison to white people. This is likely caused by socio-economic factors including a lack of healthcare access and medical insurance. Black protestors not only face the threat of contracting Coronavirus but are also risking their lives as police officers and the National Guard have been meeting largely peaceful protests with the violent use of tear gas and rubber bullets. Though virus outbreaks and protests may continue to affect Americans in the coming months, the 2020 Presidential Election is in full swing. The primaries serve as an indicator of how voting has already been impacted, and of what may come in November’s general election. Specifically, the virus has affected voter turnout and delayed voting in certain states, and states have had to decide whether or not to allow the use of absentee ballots and mail-in voting.
Article 1 Section 4 of the US Constitution notes that it is each state’s right to oversee their own elections, granting them the power to decide whether or not they want to widely permit mail-in voting. However, the absence of this option during an unprecedented global pandemic can be regarded as a form of voter suppression. Many Americans, but even more black Americans, have had to quite literally choose between enfranchisement and their own lives when deciding whether or not to exercise their right to vote. The black community’s lack of accessible healthcare, which has become even more necessary during COVID-19, is merely a consequence of the same exploitative and discriminatory system that perpetuates white power through its desire to disenfranchise black voters.
Though most states have expanded the mail-in ballot initiative, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas have made mail-in voting inaccessible. They require residents to have an “excuse” other than being in the midst of a global pandemic in order to qualify for a mail-in ballot. During the Texas primaries, Democrats pushed for an increased mail-in ballot initiative, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled that not having immunity to the virus did not qualify as a reason to permit the use of mail-in ballots under their election code. Though President Donald Trump has asserted that mail-in voting leads to increased voter fraud and his constituents are concerned with protecting states' rights from federal power, election experts have conducted studies that demonstrate mail-in ballots have a statistically insignificant fraud rate of 0.00006%. Based on these studies, “fraud” is not an intellectually sound reason to deny a mail-in ballot option, and it is not pervasive enough that it should prevent thousands of minority or immunocompromised voters from exercising their right to participate in American democracy. The 15th Amendment states 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”. But, it is clear that the rights of black voters are being denied and abridged on the account of race. Suppressing black voters, who are largely associated with the Democratic base, with intent to reach a desired political outcome is not only incredibly antiblack but is also fundamentally unconstitutional.
As the November general election approaches and the future of American public health is unclear, US citizens should not have to choose between their livelihoods and their right to political enfranchisement. Many Americans have died to ensure the right of all citizens to be able to vote, and those deaths are in vain if proper and safe voting measures are not established by November 2020. One of the most impactful ways to make institutionalised change and to tackle systemic racism is through electing new government officials. Black Americans need the opportunity to vote in officials who can help reimagine the American justice system and who will fight every day in office in order to create true equality. If black Americans cannot unilaterally express their right to vote, then the results of the 2020 election should be nullified.