Voter Suppression in 2018 Midterm Elections

By Mia Johnson, Reporter

Looking back on the 2018 midterm elections, voter suppression has again become a commonly discussed and relevant issue. Although the democrats have much to celebrate in the House of Representatives, it is important to emphasize that we are not past discrimination and suppression. Stacey Abrams, Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, has accused her state’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp of using his political power to suppress black voters by creating unnecessary voting obstacles. A renowned historical issue, we know this to be called voter suppression.

Voting rights have been a controversial issue since the United States was founded. There is nothing written in the constitution that explicitly states a right to vote, this is determined by the House of Representatives and on a state by state basis. There have always been many issues, misinformation, and inconsistencies from state to state. Misinformation often takes place in the form of phone calls or official looking fake mail targeting specific groups of people: political groups, racial groups, religious groups etc. Another example of suppression is the fact that many states do not allow convicted felons to ever vote again, even after they have served their time, this overlaps with racial and socioeconomic issues as well.  

In this particular instance, Kemp refused to leave office before the election, an issue that has prompted Abrams and advocates to complain that it is inappropriate for the man in charge of the state’s voting systems to continue to hold this position while running for office. Of course, Kemp denies these claims, saying he is helping to ¨insure election integrity.¨ Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s justice department has demonstrated very little interest in investigating these issues and standing up for voting rights. If voter discrimination is still alive and well in 2018, when will it end?

In an attempt to comprehensively describe Kemp’s actions, Huffington Post states, ¨Kemp used his official position to help his campaign by purging voter rolls and reducing voting access in African-American communities.”

This was not a subtle action. Kemp’s office removed around 1.5 million registered voters’ names from the rolls and instituted a system that canceled voter registrations that did not have the exact same spelling for names as they appear in other government databases. Removing voters from the rolls was a multistep process. First, Kemp and his team looked for small errors in name spelling or outdated information on voter registration forms. Then, these voters were notified and given 40 days to correct the mistake, and if they did not, were automatically restricted from voting.

That process disproportionately affected African-American communities and kept 53,000 voters, (70 percent of them African-American) from being able to register to vote.

Not only has Kemp blatantly targeted African-Americans, but he has withheld available voting machines that led to four hour wait lines at some sites. Legally, employers in Georgia must give citizens two hours time off work to vote. For many middle and lower income citizens, any more time off cuts into their pay, so a four hour line to vote is a privilege they cannot afford. Creating longer voting lines by withholding available machines inherently targets lower income voters.

These disputes in Georgia have led to several lawsuits with accusations of both present and historical election rigging with the aim of investigation of Georgia’s voting systems. Civil rights groups in Georgia, including the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Atlanta, filed a lawsuit on Oct. 12, calling to end the exact match program (implemented by Kemp to find errors in voter registration) due to it disproportionately affecting voters of color. NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said on Oct. 12, “It’s a stain on our system of democracy when less than a month before an election, which could produce the first African-American female governor in our nation’s history, we are seeing this type of voter suppression scheme attempted by a state official, whose candidacy for the governorship produces an irremediable conflict of interest.”

This scandal and unnecessary rule along with many others in the eight years Kemp has been Secretary of State should have been justification enough for Kemp’s disqualification. While voting scandals in Georgia attracted substantial national attention in midterm election coverage, these disputes and injustices are not unique.

From Jim Crow laws that restricted the black vote to the Voting Rights Act not passing until 1965, voter suppression is nothing new. A Democratic win for Abrams would have meant electing the nation’s first black female governor. This is clearly a racial issue. It is extremely disappointing that voter suppression of minority groups that would critically affect the outcome of this election is still an everyday obstacle.

Something to be happy about in all this madness is that, with Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, we are looking at potential widespread change. The house has just shifted from a nearly all-white party with no support to reintroduce the Voting Rights Act to a multi-racial party gunning for voting rights and positive change. Not to mention, there are more women in office than ever before; 90 are expected to make their way to Washington DC in January. Power to the women and hope for the future of Georgia.