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Voting Rights

Voting is how we take control of our bodies, lives, and futures.

Voter suppression takes power away from historically oppressed communities. 

People of color, LGBTQ+ communities, students, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes all face growing obstacles to voting for candidates and on issues they care about.

These communities are also harmed by laws that block access to abortion and high-quality, affordable reproductive health care. This is no coincidence. If people want to preserve and expand access to sexual and reproductive health care, they need their voting rights protected and their ballots counted.

Pictured at top: A mural painted in Milwaukee in 2020 by street artist Shepard Fairey. Photo by Tom Barrett, used under an Unsplash license.

What’s Voter Suppression?

Voter suppression happens when politicians make it harder for people in certain groups to vote. This includes making the process more time consuming or physically challenging, like putting fewer polling sites in certain neighborhoods, or more burdensome, like requiring IDs and extra paperwork to vote.

By creating challenges like these for certain groups, lawmakers and other backers of voter suppression hope to discourage people from going to the polls. College students who have no transportation to go to off-campus polling places, older people who cannot leave their homes and need to vote by mail or have ballots delivered, people of color who have to stand in line for an hour or more — all of these burdens can discourage or stop people from voting. 

Voting Is Your Right and Your Duty

If you have any questions about the voting process — from registering to reporting problems with casting a ballot — call the Election Protection coalition at 866-OUR-VOTE.

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Why Voter Suppression Has Grown Worse

The U.S. became a truly functional democracy in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act — a pinnacle achievement of the Civil Rights Movement — went into effect. With the Voting Rights Act in place, states and localities with a history of making it hard or impossible for certain communities to vote had to “preclear” significant changes in their voting rules or practices with either the U.S. Department of Justice, or a federal district court in Washington, D.C. 

After 1965, time and again, Congress voted by overwhelming majorities to renew the preclearance rules that had at last made it possible for millions of Americans in Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other communities of color to exercise their right to vote in free and fair elections.

Over time, however, new justices joined the U.S. Supreme Court. Federal Judge John Roberts — who had demonstrated a career-long hostility to the Voting Rights Act — stepped into the role of chief justice. In the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, the court suspended the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance rules. Writing the opinion of the court, Chief Justice Roberts noted that in 2012 — when President Barack Obama, the first Black president, won re-election — Black voter turnout in several states that used to suppress Black voters had exceeded white turnout. “Things have changed dramatically,” Roberts insisted.

The immediate aftermath proved how misguided the court’s decision was. According to a longtime observer of the Supreme Court, journalist Linda Greenhouse: “Within hours, Greg Abbott, then the attorney general of Texas and now the state’s governor, announced that a stringent voter-ID law that had been blocked … the previous summer would go into effect ‘immediately.’” 

By 2020, Texas — where anti-abortion rights politicians went on in 2021 to adopt and enforce a law that made the federal constitutional right to abortion essentially meaningless there — had become the hardest state in the country in which to vote

Pictured: Chief Justice John Roberts, at right, photographed in 1983 when he worked under then-President Ronald Reagan (left) in the White House Counsel’s Office. 

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, June 2013, dissenting in Shelby County

Who Wants to Suppress Votes? 

Politicians who want to deny our ability to control our lives and futures thrive when certain communities — younger people, people of color, people with low incomes — have a harder time voting for candidates who defend and protect their values. Opponents of abortion rights and voting rights are often one and the same — and they use identical tactics to pursue their dangerous political agendas.

Politicians who push for restrictions on voting and abortion, for instance, offer eerily similar — and equally bogus — arguments in support of their schemes:

Supporters of voter ID laws frame their efforts as designed to prevent voter fraud, even though expert studies make clear that in-person voter impersonation — the only kind of fraud that an ID requirement prevents — is virtually nonexistent. And abortion opponents claim they’re motivated by the threat to women’s health posed by sub-standard clinics — despite the fact that abortion is already an extremely safe procedure, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say laws shutting down clinics make women less safe, not more.

Politicians who seek to suppress voters, but are blocked from openly doing so by the Voting Rights Act, also use a tactic developed by anti-abortion rights politicians when Roe v. Wade protected the right to abortion. They place one burden after another on people who just want to exercise their rights. They enforce strict voter-identification laws, bans on voter-registration campaigns, closing polling places, restrictions on early voting and vote by mail, and systematic removals of occasional voters from registration records. These policies all make it harder for people, especially voters of color, younger voters, and voters with low incomes, to vote. These mirror restrictions that keep people from abortion care — like waiting periods, bans at certain weeks of pregnancy, and targeted restrictions such as unnecessary paperwork, permitting, and building requirements.

Pictured: Voters in a lengthy line on Nov. 3, 2012, at a polling place in Miami. Photo by Phillip Pessar; used under a Creative Commons license.

How Voter Suppression Undermines Our Rights

North Carolina

Hostile politicians in North Carolina have used voter identification requirements to make it harder to vote — targeting Black voters with “almost surgical precision,” one federal court found. Through such restrictions — and by splitting urban areas, Black communities, and other communities of color across multiple legislative districts to reduce their power — anti abortion-rights politicians have maintained a tight grip on the legislature. 

In late 2022, the anti-abortion rights leaders of the state House and Senate succeeded at prodding a federal judge to let a ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy take effect.

Wisconsin

Through restrictions that disproportionately burden voters of color and voters with low incomes — and, a major activist has bragged, scare tactics like bogus efforts to stop nonexistent voter fraud — participation by Black and Latino voters has been significantly reduced. Legislative district lines that pack urban communities and communities of color have also undercut voters’ power, letting anti-abortion rights politicians hold control of both houses of the legislature even when polls show that a majority of Wisconsinites oppose them. 

In 2022, when Gov. Tony Evers — a champion of reproductive rights — called a special session of the legislature to protect abortion rights, anti-abortion lawmakers adjourned the state Senate after just 15 seconds.

Michigan

District lines that packed and split up Black communities, and other communities of color, entrenched anti-abortion rights politicians’ control over the state legislature for years — giving them majorities in the state House and Senate even when they lost a majority of Michiganders’ votes. Through a direct public vote, however, Michigan voters amended the state constitution in 2018 to stop politicians from drawing unfair lines — and in 2022, reproductive rights champions took full control of the state legislature. 

Now, in partnership with reproductive health champion Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, lawmakers have repealed the state’s strict 1931 abortion ban

Attacks on reproductive freedom and the right to vote go hand in hand.

States like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia have higher-than-average proportions of Black people in their populations — and Texas has a higher than average proportion of Latinos in its population. Each of these states has taken measures, in the years since the Supreme Court undermined the Voting Rights Act, to suppress certain communities’ votes. 

Anti-abortion rights politicians know that the American people reject their dangerous agenda. That’s why they fought to pack the federal courts with judges who have track records of hostility to reproductive rights — and it’s why they’ve used their political power to make it tougher for historically marginalized populations, including people of color who want abortion protected, to vote.

Without shielding themselves from the democratic process — from accountability to voters — anti-abortion rights politicians know their unpopular ideas, like ending access to medication abortion or even in-vitro fertilization, would stand no chance. That’s why attacks on our reproductive rights have become emblematic of — and bound up with — attacks on democracy itself

The right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights.

– Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964

 

Court Reform Is Essential to Protect Our Freedoms

Court reform is essential to restore abortion rights, bolster hard won civil rights that have been weakened, and protect other rights that are under attack. Sign your name to join us in the call to reform our courts.

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