Voter Suppression Must Not Become Strategy

JOHN WOOLLEY: The republic depends on the vote; it is its source of life. It is a linkage institution without equal. It is unique in its power to give voice to the will of the general public. It is vital in its ability to hold public officials accountable for their decisions while in office. It is critical in its illustration of a policy’s viability and popularity. It is unmatched in its role of ensuring both the rule of the majority and the protection of the minority.

The history of this nation is the history of this right’s expansion. Founded in a state of impermissible restriction, the vote follows in lockstep with the beats of the nation’s struggles: the struggle of the poor, of the African American, of the woman. Whenever it found itself under threat by forces looking to disenfranchise those embattled demographics, the American public has historically risen up to combat those forces. This combat has taken many forms. Suffragettes marched and picketed against the notion that they were apathetic toward politics. Demonstrators marched from Selma to Montgomery to highlight racial intimidation at the polls. Members of Congress cast their votes to reject the long reign of Jim Crow.

In each case, the American public identified the corrupt justifications for disenfranchisement and targeted it. They refused to allow it to persist without fierce opposition. By breaking down this social wall of impermeability through public criticism, demonstrators enabled the status quo of oppression to change.

Today, in the wake of the 2018 midterm elections, a new injustice has emerged. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams in the state’s gubernatorial election. As the current Secretary of State, Kemp is also the chief elections officer, and as such is responsible for overseeing and maintaining the voter rolls for the state. In the past week, the Associated Press has reported how Kemp, acting in his current role, has stalled over 50,000 voter registrations belonging disproportionately to black citizens of the state. This stall could result in a significant blow to Abrams’ base voting bloc, given that the candidate herself is looking to become the nation’s first female African American governor.

While Kemp denies any accusations charging him with attempting to suppress the black vote, this is not the only piece of evidence suggesting the employment of this tactic. Kemp is also the target of a lawsuit following an investigation by the Palast Investigative Fund for purging over 300,000 Georgians from the voter rolls over the past two years. Just last week, Jefferson County officials came under fire for forcing black seniors to get off of a bus taking them to a polling place for early voting. Since 2012, over 200 precincts have been closed, making it immensely more difficult for Georgians across the state to actually reach their polling place and have the chance to vote.

All of these evidences, when compiled together, paint a picture that hauntingly echoes the dark history of the nation’s past. Purging and stalling the registrations of opposition voters in an attempt to secure a victory in the gubernatorial election is not only unethical, it is anti-democratic and anti-American. Not only does it risk people’s faith in the coming gubernatorial election, but it also endangers the public’s faith in election systems nationwide. If this sort of voter suppression proves itself to be both effective enough to succeed and subtle enough to avoid legal repercussion, then such strategies could spread outside of Georgia to infect the nation at large. Should this occur, we risk the legitimacy of our elections, the meaning of our voting rights, and the essence of our republic.

Max Magid