Voter Suppression was the topic of the July 6, 2021, League of Women Voters Topeka-Shawnee County Tuesday Topics presentation by Dr. Russell Fox, Political Science professor at Friends University. We’ve included the highlights of his presentation below. The library is a partner with the League of Women Voters in sharing nonpartisan civic information.
Dr. Fox began with his thesis: Voter suppression in the U.S. is real and is taking place in areas not getting media attention. We should be aware of some misdirection. Voters tend to focus on such details as ballot access and polling places rather than WHO has the power to appoint election officials.
Our nation is a federation of 50 states and one federal government. Unlike other countries our federation is more centralized. States don’t have the same authority as the federal government, especially regarding elections. Federalism is very strong in the U.S. State senate districts must be roughly equal in population, which is the basis for “one person-one vote.”
In 1964 Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court required electoral districts of state legislatures be as equal as possible. The 1965 Voting Rights Act caused states to institute changes such as mail-in ballots and advanced voting to make it easier to vote. The Act required changes in states with a history of Jim Crow laws that were pushing back against the Voting Rights Act.
Partisan Issues Today
Voting has always been partisan, but it is more so today. States are experimenting with their voting procedures. Voter turnout is made complicated by the fact that different political parties want certain segments of the population to vote (for them) and certain segments of the population NOT to vote (for someone else).
In Kansas the transfer of power to the Secretary of State or the state’s legislative body away from county election officials is voter suppression – a power grab by the Republican party to make themselves the decision makers. The Secretary of State appoints the county election official in the four most populated Kansas counties (Johnson, Sedgewick, Shawnee and Wyandotte). In other counties the county commission makes the decision.
Recent Supreme Court Decisions
The U.S. Supreme Court issued two voting decisions in the last 10 years. In the first, Shelby v. Holder found the pre-clearance requirement was an unconstitutional power grab from the federal government over states’ basic rights. The court found that enough time has passed that the violation of the right to vote on the basis of race was no longer the emergency it once was.
The most recent case was decided July 1, 2021, in which the Supreme Court upheld two election laws in the state of Arizona that banned third parties from delivering ballots, disallowed absentee ballots, and allowed election officials to discard votes of voters in the wrong precinct rather than making them provisional. The court upheld the law saying it did not discriminate substantially.
There are a lot of important principles at stake in these laws and around voting and election laws. Hundreds and even thousands of votes of American citizens are at stake. However, there is not a lot of evidence that these sort of laws – requiring voter ID, restricting polling locations, shortening windows for requesting advance ballots – impact voter turnout. We had record turnout in the 2020 election, the highest in a century.
History of Voter Expansion
Voter access has been expanded throughout our history. In the early days only white male property owners who belonged to certain Christian churches could vote. As people moved west many were poor, not members of a particular church, and they wanted to vote. States removed the property and religious requirements. Next the 15th Amendment broadened voter access to include Blacks, Chinese and Japanese immigrants, and Native Americans. The 19th Amendment established the vote for women. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18. The Voter Motor law under President Clinton in the 1990s, which allowed people to register when they got their driver’s license.
The Republican party is not interested in expanding voter access to the poor and minorities who tend to vote Democratic. The Democratic party is working to expand voter access. There is not much evidence that voter registration relates to actual voting. People who live in higher income precincts often have the advantages of more income, more leisure time, a job that allows time off to vote and access to transportation.