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Necessary Steps to Ensure Voting Rights - Reflections Ahead of the U.S. November Election

As Americans prepare to vote in an election between two unprecedentedly unpopular candidates, they might feel, as political scientist Jesse Rhodes predicts, “ambivalence and disappointment about the prospects of a rematch”.


This evaluation of the average U.S. voter’s mindset does not sound promising, leading up to such a crucial election, one which could see the reelection of a former president currently facing 91 criminal charges. In the face of voter fatigue and indifference, it seems pressing to re-examine the ongoing voting rights violations in the U.S. to emphasize just how crucial it is to vote. 


The current outlook on voting has been heavily influenced by the results of the 2020 election. Trump continues, risking libel, to question Biden’s win and thus encourage his supporters and the American people to doubt the legitimacy of the voting process and the stability of American democracy as a whole. 


In turn this has led conservative activists to pressure and threaten election officials, especially concerning the new Mail-in voting system which was instituted at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conspiracies spread about the theft and/or replacement of mail-in votes has only fueled the spread of misinformation concerning voter fraud. Unease about the voting process may have impacts beyond interference in the election, it could have the effect of decreased voter participation. 


Beyond a shift in how people perceive the legitimacy of voting, which has been amplified by Russian cyber interference, true voter suppression has occurred unbeknownst to many citizens. Since the beginning of 2023, “at least 14 states have passed laws” that make voting more difficult, and between October 2022 and 2023 at least 881 laws intended to interfere in elections or restrict the vote were introduced in state legislatures.  


These laws have infringed upon early voting, absentee voting, mail-in voting, and voting assistance programs. Barriers to voting such as these, bar political participation for many marginalized communities, especially Black, Hispanic, and disabled voters. 


The issue of redrawn districts is perhaps one of the most discriminatory of such voter-suppression policies. In Texas for instance, Republican lawmakers redrew the state’s districts in 2021 to eliminate those in which marginalized voters would be able to independently elect candidates. This decision has been heavily contested, and certain cases have been brought as high as the U.S. Court of Appeals


Yet, just as Georgia Republicans have responded when ordered by Federal judges to redraw the state’s districts to include majority-Black congressional districts, many Republican legislators have begun targeting districts in which coalitions of minority groups vote instead. Coalition districts, including two or more minority groups, are less protected, and whether or not the Voting Rights Act protects them remains unanswered by the Supreme Court. 


Despite a federal push to ease the process of voter registration and mail-in voting, many state governments have counteracted these moves  with increasingly restrictive measures. These have even gone as far as to challenge the Voting Rights Act itself. Alabama’s attempt to remake Section 2 of the act, the section that allows litigators to challenge districts, is just one of many attacks. Section 2 aims to eliminate race based discrimination, and as such it allows anyone (individuals or civic action groups) to file cases against their districts or their state.   


Under a conservative supreme court, threats to the Voting Rights Act have become credible in recent years, with some becoming reality, such as Texas’ Senate Bill 1 which allows state officials to “intervene and supervise” in the Harris country’s elections, a county which is one of the most diverse in the state. 


Beyond the unsuitability of the nominated candidates, voter rights violations have also been a central driver of eroded confidence in American democracy. At such a nebulous time, when 64% of the American population believes that their democracy is at risk of failing and when voter turnout (as assessed through the 2022 primaries) remains low across the country, it is important to support grassroots organizations such as Black Voters Matter and Fair Fight. These groups not only fight for voter equality for marginalised groups but for every American citizen. 


Elections that do not include the most voters possible do not uphold democracy. This most basic element of democratic government, fair and equal voting, should not be such a key challenge. Thus continued advocacy for voting reform and transparency remains crucial.


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