Civitas, a St. Louis-based educational non-profit, is working with seventeen interns this summer. They are researching (a) why certain individuals do not vote and what can be done to encourage them to do so, (b) how are system of voting is changing in light of COVID-19 and countervailing forces for change, and (c) current race relations issues in the United States and around the world.
Interns were asked to explore ways in which voting rights could be suppressed. The theory is that you have to understand the problem before you can remedy it. Below are their thoughts:
Bella: If I wanted to suppress voting in today’s world, it would obviously depend on the position of power that I was in. But assuming I have total power over President, Congress, the courts, and the entire bureaucracy, and my goal is to get as few people voting as possible, here’s how I would do it.
First, I would require more in-depth applications for poll workers to get a better gauge of their personality. Did lots of optimistic, naive AP Government students apply? Count ‘em out! Any cynical, technologically inexperienced old people apply? Count ‘em in, with bonus points if they have an attitude! Maybe increase the pay rate for poll workers, to get a larger applicant pool. This way, any mishap with the ballot scanners turns into hours-long waits, with disgruntled workers and voters alike. As a result of the increased pay rate, however, many states will have to decrease their numbers of voting stations. I’ll block regulations on the spacing there. Then, I would block cases going through the courts against gerrymandering. No need to look over voting districts! In state party meetings, I would lobby against open primaries. Why not go for the most inefficient method of handling primaries: the closed caucus! Only people willing to skip work for the day in the name of politics will be willing to go to this one. At the very least, I will get open primaries changed to closed primaries, to make sure only voters registered with a party will vote. With all aspects of this plan in place, at the bare minimum I will have only the most patient and determined voters taking part in the process.
How I would suppress voters in today’s world:
- Cut power to traffic lights and tell the cops directing traffic to only let people from one side of the intersection go all day
- Sample ballots have advertisements on them so that people think it’s a penny saver and throw it away without looking
- Provide donuts or pizza to poll workers but ensure it comes during the busiest time of the day and force workers to take a break to eat it
- Spill cherry soda on machines so that when workers take them out of the cases the machines are sticky and poll workers have to wash their hands and clean the machines delaying start times
- Do a “balloon drop” in the polling place celebrating the 100th vote and make workers clean it up before anyone else can come in because the polling place is not accessible with balloons on the floor
- Make poll workers spend the first hour of voting time decorating the poll place, and if it isn’t deemed aesthetically pleasing by an interior designer/ party planner, shut the polling place down
The most effective way to obstruct voting is to create a process that makes registering to vote as complicated as possible. This would include adding charges for mailing, poll taxes, etc, as well as making it take a long time. If people can get past that, make it hard to access polling places by making them far from people’s homes, and keeping them far away from public transportation. If they get to the polling place, adding in extra measures like photo ID requirements and confusing ballots will discourage more people. For those who can’t make it to the polls, you could make requesting absentee ballots more complicated, or just get rid of absentee voting altogether.
Valerie: The best thing to do to rig an election, assuming you have the resources, is not to rig the vote, but to rig the factors that influence voting. The vast majority of media in the US is owned by just a few companies. As such, they all share relatively similar interests, which will affect their reporting. They are less likely to report stories that hurt their bottom line, and willing to report those that help them. For example, they may ignore stories about a primary candidate who would threaten their business winning several primaries, but push one about another, more status quo candidate winning one less significant primary, frame it as them running away with the race, and then ignore stories damaging them. This boosts their favorite candidate’s credibility, and by ignoring their opposition, many of them can be undemocratically wiped out without touching a single vote. Or perhaps they take a relatively unknown local politician announcing their candidacy, who has never held higher office, and give them disproportionate coverage, putting them in the same position as senators and former cabinet members. Of course, this isn’t something that can simply be relied on – the media reports based on their own interests, not a political party’s. Outright bribery and lies are very hard to get away with. But the interests of the media and the political establishment are often the same – the interests of the elite.
I think there are many ways that you could subtly suppress voting in today’s world. This is already being done in the United States today, especially through voting restrictions in black or brown communities. For example, restricting the number of polling stations in areas that you do not want to vote already occurs in this country. In addition, posters could be hung up in these communities or false advertisements could be posted on social media, which has been done in the past, telling people to go vote the day after the date of an actual election, deterring even those who actually want to vote. Furthermore, a lack of transportation accessibility in predominantly black communities in the United States can also discourage black voters from going to vote and these are all combined just a few of the numerous reasons why black voter turnout tends to be lower than that of white voter turnout.
Gabe: Repress Voting
1. Make the ballots confusing, beyond normal understanding, and they must be fully filled out and complete to be counted.
2. Multi-phasal voter ID. Fake IDs are commonplace among this nation, to prove that you are who you say you are you need: driver’s license; birth certificate; social security card; and a notarized special voter’s pamphlet.
3. The special voter’s pamphlet requires an online registration process that takes 1 hour to complete and three weeks to ship.
4. You have one hour to vote. 5:00am-6:00am. If you cannot put the ballot in the counter by that time, you cannot vote.
5. Calming classical music, played at a dangerously high volume, is blasted through the voting area.
Here’s my list of ways I think of to suppress voting in America (some are unfortunately in practice or have been proposed):
- Poll tax
- Literacy tests
- Notarizing absentee ballots
- Limiting polling places
- Illegalizing absentee ballots
- Shortening hours when polling places are open
- Placing polling place hours during the typical work day
- Requiring more and more documents
- No national holiday for elections
- Closed primaries
- Having the outcome of an election not actually follow majority/popular vote (i.e. the electoral college)
- Increase the time it took to vote through tedious aspects of the voting process such as filling out a bunch of personal information or requiring voters to take surveys
- Make voting more confusing with constantly changing the voting process with technology
If you have ever seen the documentary Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook, you would have evidence to explain why voting is suppressed in the United States. Year after year, different people and groups use tricks to limit people’s votes such as voter purges, voter I.D. laws, and gerrymandering. Even legislation that protects voters has been changed, and laws have been created to further suppress votes. In order to change this, I would uphold the Voting Rights Act while strengthen it where needed as well as ensure every state is consistent in protecting voting. Voter I.D. laws should not exist as they hinder people from voting. We need automatic and same-day voter registration to enable more to vote easily. We need better absentee voting options as well as mail-in voting. We need to change Election Day to a weekend and make it a federal holiday, so we make it more accessible for people to vote. We live in a democracy, yet only half of registered voters actually vote. This is outrageous given we have the right and privilege to vote. What’s more outrageous is the fact that groups of people actively try to prevent people from voting. Every effort against voter suppression must be enacted.
Ways to Suppress Voting to Today’s World…
- Making Election Day on a Weekday Where People Don’t Have Time To Vote
- Set a Fixed Time Period To Go Vote
- Machines That Don’t/Never Work
- Lack of Backup Paper Ballots
- Voting Buildings Far From Home/Work
- Voting Buildings that Can Only Be Accessed via Car
- Making Voter Registration Needlessly Difficult
- Making Voter Registration Cost Money
- Conveniently Blocking Traffic to Polling Places
- Normalizing That, If You Don’t Like Neither Candidate, Just Don’t Vote
- Prevent Urban Voters By Making Polling Places in Rural Areas
- Normalize That if You Don’t Feel Safe Voting in the Only Polling Place Within Close Range, Don’t Voting
- Large Police Presence, Inflicts Intimidation Tactics
- Openly Lying About When Polls Open
- Must Have Voter’s ID
- Felons Cannot Vote. Ever.
Unfortunately, there are still ways to “legally” suppress voters in today’s world. Since Election day is not considered a civic holiday on a national level, many voters have to take time off of work without pay. There are only nine states in the United States who have the opportunity to have a day off of work to vote. However, this does not exclude these voters from being suppressed in other ways. For example, voters can be suppressed through long lines at the polls and malfunctioning machines. Others can qualify for absentee voting but they may never receive their ballot in the mail. Gerrymandering is also a huge issue in voting. District lines may be redrawn to change the demographic of voters in certain districts.
- Require two forms of ID in order to vote
- Require proof of residence to register (mail)
- Reduce voting times from 9:00 am-5:00 pm with an hour break for poll workers from 11:30 to 12:30, and only allowed to vote on tuesdays
- Don’t have special needs assistance at voting places(no ramps, audio help, brail etc.)
- Do not post publicly about voting dates and places
- Stop sending out voting cards with voting day information
- Have registration expire every year
- Do not have public transport reach voting sites, or have sites that are not accessible by car.
- Make voters use a private password that they cannot reset when voting that must be 13 characters long, with a special character.
● Require an address
● Require a high school diploma or ged
● Spread out voting centers
● No criminal record- at all
● don’t advertise election
● don’t advertise deadline
● Limit voting hours
If I was going to suppress voting, I would start by only mentioning voting in connection with fraud or other negatives like long lines or lost ballots. It would be essential to link voting and futility together to discourage voter turnout. Passing strict voter ID laws would be a necessity. If people think that their vote doesn’t matter, then I don’t have to worry about them turning up at the polls. For those who do vote, I would close polling places, insuring long lines and longer commutes for people. I would also try and delay the training of polling workers, so they were less prepared to deal with faulty equipment. Slowing the whole process down, ie taking longer to mail absentee ballots, not having the proper amount of paper ballots at a polling place, would be the name of the game. Just make voting a nuisance that requires too much time and paperwork and never leads to change, that would be how I would suppress voting.
Traditionally there are two ways to win an election (this might be somewhat reductionist but bear with me); A campaign might decide to focus on persuasion which would involve “flipping” voters who might usually support the opposition to your preferred side, a campaign might also decide to focus on turnout which would involve motivating as many likely supporters as possible to vote. However there is a little appreciated but fairly pervasive third way to win an election which is as old as America itself, voter suppression which is the act of creating barriers to an opponent’s voters being able to vote. If I were a government official from a political party that has limited support among any number of various groups but perhaps especially low-income voters, young voters, African-American, and Latino voters I might use this course of action to ensure victory and suppress voting.
- Introduce a state issued license requirement to vote, preferably a photo identification card.
- Require a number of qualifications in order to receive the state issued license
- Payment of all delinquent taxes
- No warrants from any law enforcement agency
- Payment of a one-time nominal fee to register for the license (Passports cost $140 with all components)
- Allow a limited number of locations where these licenses can be processed and purchased
- These locations should be inaccessible to public transport
- These locations should only be opened for limited “Registration periods”, perhaps only a few weeks every year.
- These locations should have limited processing abilities, having only enough materials to produce so many licenses per day
- Allow residents to receive a different standard of license
- These licenses would be sufficient for driving and identification for all purposes except voting
- These licenses should be available for purchase at a significantly reduced price
- The distinction between the non-voting license and voting license should not be made clear in the licensing centers
- The non-voting license should be available for distribution at locations that are extremely accessible including libraries, post-offices, and shopping centers