The Politics of Voter Suppression

The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans' Right to Vote

Tova Andrea Wang
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Voter Suppression
    Book Description:

    The Politics of Voter Suppression arrives in time to assess actual practices at the polls this fall and to reengage with debates about voter suppression tactics such as requiring specific forms of identification. Tova Andrea Wang examines the history of how U.S. election reforms have been manipulated for partisan advantage and establishes a new framework for analyzing current laws and policies. The tactics that have been employed to suppress voting in recent elections are not novel, she finds, but rather build upon the strategies used by a variety of actors going back nearly a century and a half. This continuity, along with the shift to a Republican domination of voter suppression efforts for the past fifty years, should inform what we think about reform policy today.

    Wang argues that activities that suppress voting are almost always illegitimate, while reforms that increase participation are nearly always legitimate. In short, use and abuse of election laws and policies to suppress votes has obvious detrimental impacts on democracy itself. Such activities are also harmful because of their direct impacts on actual election outcomes. Wang regards as beneficial any legal effort to increase the number of Americans involved in the electoral system. This includes efforts that are focused on improving voter turnout among certain populations typically regarded as supporting one party, as long as the methods and means for boosting participation are open to all. Wang identifies and describes a number of specific legitimate and positive reforms that will increase voter turnout.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6603-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Janice Nittoli

    The right to vote is at the heart of American ideals of democracy. The U.S. Constitution places the election of representatives firmly in the hands of “the People,” and its amendments enumerate the many ways in which this right to vote cannot be denied. Access to the ballot by American voters not only has been protected; it also has been greatly expanded. U.S. history has been, generally, a tale of increasing suffrage, with the Fifteenth and Nineteenth amendments extending the franchise to blacks and women, respectively.

    While the nation’s watershed moments have seen numerous hands in Congress raised in support...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. 1 The Voter Inclusion Principle
    (pp. 1-15)

    In 2011 and 2012, following a wave of Republican takeovers of state legislatures and statehouses in the 2010 elections, states across the country saw an extraordinary assault on American citizens’ voting rights—the worst in geographic scope in generations, potentially impacting hundreds of thousands of voters. The requirement for voters to have government-issued photo identification at the polls—a favorite tool of some in the Republican Party to disenfranchise constituencies more likely to vote for Democrats—was rammed through and passed into law in eight states across the country, and made it through some part of the legislative process in...

  6. 2 The Early Years of Vote Suppression
    (pp. 16-28)

    From the mid-nineteenth century until the turn of the twentieth century, Americans in many states witnessed the enactment and implementation of egregiously disenfranchising laws and procedures. Given the amount of power states had (and continue to have) to determine how elections are administered in our voting system, such laws were put into place by state legislatures and governors. Many of these laws and procedures were enacted in the name of fighting alleged fraud, but with largely political ends in mind. Both parties were complicit in these tactics, because they allowed both parties to maintain their spheres of power. Moreover, it...

  7. 3 Conditions and Consequences of the Voting Rights Act
    (pp. 29-41)

    After the monumental victory for voting rights that occurred in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, the years between the 1920s and the early 1960s were a time of relative stasis in the election process. Alexander Keyssar has called this era the “Quiet Years.” “Despite skirmishes large and small, partisan as well as ideological, there were few major changes in the laws governing the right to vote,” he writes. “In the South . . . the dense web of restrictions woven between 1890 and 1910 continued to disenfranchise nearly all blacks and many poor whites.”¹ For much of...

  8. 4 Vote Suppression Goes National—and Republican
    (pp. 42-59)

    The 1950s and 1960s witnessed significant advancements in voting rights. The decade also saw important tactical shifts in vote suppression. The most blatant Jim Crow voting laws disenfranchising African Americans that had persisted into the middle of the twentieth century were largely eradicated by passage of voting rights laws in this period. Yet this progress did not mark the end of efforts to disenfranchise certain groups of voters at the ballot box. The traditional tactic of playing games with voter registration and registration lists persisted. Moreover, new strategies were developed from well-established devices and soon became the preferred weapons for...

  9. 5 The Battle over Motor Voter
    (pp. 60-74)

    At the same time that caging was being used to disenfranchise voters in the 1980s and into the ’90s, another skirmish was being fought on a different battlefield, one that would ultimately push in the other direction, that of greater voter inclusion: passage of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), called the “motor voter” law.

    The enactment of NVRA was the culmination of years of fighting to make the registration system easier to navigate and access. The research had been clear for years that the obstacle of voter registration was a huge factor in this country’s low rate of voting.¹...

  10. 6 The Election of 2000 and Its Fallout
    (pp. 75-90)

    The presidential election of 2000 was a national drama the likes of which no one alive had ever seen. A race too close to call on election night was still not decided when voters woke up the next morning, as the narrow margin in Florida triggered a recount of that state’s votes. Al Gore’s lead in the national popular vote meant nothing if Florida’s electoral votes were given to George Bush. With the presidency hanging in the balance, the nation watched as the recount drama spun out for more than a month, including involvement of the U.S. Supreme Court.¹ In...

  11. 7 A Slight Upswing
    (pp. 91-107)

    The 2008 presidential election was a bit of a reprieve from the dramatic and widespread election manipulation that took place in 2000 and 2004. Slightly improved turnout across the whole voting population, and much increased turnout among traditionally disenfranchised voters, gave advocates of voter inclusion, in the parlance of the year, hope.

    Most notable was the experience of North Carolina. For the first time in the state’s electoral history, North Carolina implemented a combination of in-person early voting and the ability to register and vote at the polling place during this early voting period. With the outreach the Obama campaign...

  12. 8 Effects on Election Outcomes
    (pp. 108-125)

    All this evidence of partisan manipulation of election law for the purpose of winning elections raises the question: Did the manipulation work? Did candidates win elections as a result of the partisan disenfranchisement of some segment of the electorate? In many instances it is difficult if not impossible to say. So many variables are at play in the electoral process. It is never clear how many people do not vote as a result of a barrier. And if failure to vote was due to a barrier, it is not easy to determine which barrier it was. Moreover, we never know...

  13. 9 How To Increase Participation
    (pp. 126-155)

    The voter inclusion principle argues that vote suppression for partisan gain is virtually never legitimate, but increasing participation through legal and legislative maneuvers is legitimate and ethical, even if it is to the disproportionate benefit of one side. Until now, I have discussed the ways in which the political parties have relentlessly violated this principle. Here I explore how they can embrace it. It is a formula for improving our democracy. Perhaps in some instances, it is also a recipe for winning elections.

    The parties and candidates can play a primary role in strengthening our democracy by increasing inclusion in...

  14. Epilogue: What Citizens Can Do
    (pp. 156-160)

    As the 2012 presidential campaign got into gear in late 2011, the partisan assault on voting rights showed no signs of abating. The push for more laws requiring government-issued photo identification at the polls was continuing, most notably in the large swing state of Pennsylvania. Referendum campaigns around amending the state constitution to require photo ID were being planned in Missouri and Minnesota. The state legislative sessions of 2012 promised further such efforts, including in some states where legislators had unsuccessfully tried to pass ID laws the previous year, like Nebraska. In Maine, which had for years been able to...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 161-186)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 187-188)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 189-198)