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COLUMN: Voter ID laws suppress voters



A citizen can never be fully respected by the state if he or she isn't afforded all the benefits of his or her citizenship.

Political theorists have mapped out the concept of citizenship since the dawn of civilization. Still, the notion is difficult for U.S. lawmakers to wrap their heads around. It's especially difficult to suss out citizenship when American electoral policy is soaked in racism.

While the public awaits the Supreme Court’s Gill v. Whitford decision on whether drawing districts for partisan gain is constitutional, partisan gerrymandering laws remain on of the most salient topics within voting rights.

Partisan gerrymandering reallocates votes, largely for the Republican Party, using intentionally drawn districts. Equally important— and more historically complex — however, are the state policies that prevent Americans from exercising their right to vote in the first place. 

Since African American men were given the right to vote with the 15th Amendment ratified in 1870, efforts to remove their enfranchisement have pervaded state and local governments. 

Racist policies turned away African American voters from the polls, even though they were now supposedly given all the power to vote. Even after former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, African American men— and women, by this time— remained discriminated against. 

Back in those days, these racist policies took the form of literacy tests and polling taxes, which disproportionately affected minority populations. Today, they take the form of voter ID laws, among others. 

The only thing that has changed is lawmakers’ modes. The goals are still the same.

Remaining racist voting laws in Wisconsin had a strong impact on the 2016 election. In this key swing state, a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found the state’s strict voter ID laws suppressed voting.

According to the New York Times, the 2011 laws enacted by a Republican legislature and statehouse kept 16,800 registered Wisconsin voters away from the polls last November. 

For reference, President Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by only 22,748 votes.

Wisconsin’s voter ID laws require citizens show a driver’s license, passport or naturalization certificate in order to vote. 

These laws were show to have disproportionately affected African Americans and low-income Americans. For example, more than 21 percent of Wisconsin registrants earning less than $25,000 a year were deterred from voting, along with 27 percent of black registrants compared to 8 percent of whites, the New York Times reports.

“They didn’t come out to vote for Hillary. They didn’t come out. And that was a big  – so thank you to the African American community,” President Trump said last December during his campaign victory tour in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

While these examples refer to African Americans specifically, it’s no mistake the people who’ve been historically excluded from participating in electoral politics are the ones who are targeted by modern voter laws.  

The only way for the state to embrace the citizenship of all Americans is to treat everyone equally in the law, bureaucratic policies included. Conversations about gerrymandering and elections must include the historic disenfranchisement of minority groups. 

Doing so is the only way we can understand both the exploitation and suppression of minority voters.

jsbourkl@indiana.edu
@jsbourkland
 

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