Voting should be as easy and convenient as possible, and in many cases it is. But across the U.S., too many politicians are passing measures making it harder to cast a ballot. The goal is to manipulate political outcomes, and the result is a severely compromised democracy that doesn’t reflect the will of the people. Our democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard.
Suppression efforts range from the seemingly unobstructive, like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, to mass purges of voter rolls and systemic disenfranchisement. And long before election cycles even begin, legislators can redraw district lines that determine the weight of your vote. Certain communities are particularly susceptible to suppression and in some cases, outright targeted — people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most rampant methods of voter suppression across the country — and the advocacy and litigation efforts aimed at protecting our fundamental right to vote.
Voter ID Laws
Thirty-six states have identification requirements at the polls. Seven states have strict photo ID laws, under which voters must present one of a limited set of forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot – no exceptions. These strict ID laws are part of an ongoing strategy to suppress the vote, and it works. Voter ID laws have been estimated by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to reduce voter turnout by 2-3 percentage points, translating to tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state.
Over 21 million U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification. That’s because ID cards aren’t always accessible for everyone. The ID itself can be costly, and even when IDs are free, applicants must incur other expenses to obtain the underlying documents that are needed to get an ID. This can be a significant burden on people in lower-income communities. Further, the travel required is an obstacle for people with disabilities, the elderly, and people living in rural areas.
Voter Registration Restrictions
Restricting the terms and requirements of registration is one of the most common forms of voter suppression. Restrictions can include requiring documents to prove citizenship or identification, onerous penalties for voter registration drives or limiting the window of time in which voters can register.
Politicians often use unfounded claims of voter fraud to try to justify registration restrictions. In 2011, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach championed a law requiring Kansans to show “proof of citizenship” documents in order to register to vote, citing false claims of noncitizen voting. Most people don’t carry the required documents on hand — like a passport, or a birth certificate — and as a result, the law blocked over 30,000 Kansans from voting. The ACLU sued and defeated the law in 2018.
Some states restrict registration by allowing people to register long in advance of an election. For example, New York requires voters to register at least 25 days before the election, which imposes an unnecessary burden on the right to vote. By forcing voters to register before the election even becomes salient to the public, it discourages people from registering in the first place. These outdated restrictions — which were designed for a time when registration forms were exclusively completed with pen and paper, and transmitted via snail mail — can significantly impact voter participation. In the 2016 presidential election, over 90,000 New Yorkers were unable to vote because their applications did not meet the 25-day cutoff, and the state had the eighth-worst turnout rate in the country.
AARP Answers: The 2020 Census and the Coronavirus
by Kenneth Terrell, AARP
Has the census been postponed by the coronavirus outbreak?
On April 13, the Census Bureau announced it was pushing back several key deadlines in the 2020 count due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for people to complete the survey forms for their households has been moved to October 31, 2020, more than two months later than its previous date of August 15. The agency also now won’t resume its full field operations — including door-to-door visits to people who have not completed the survey — until June 1, 2020. On May 4, the bureau said it was resuming some field operations. In some parts of the nation, census workers would begin going to neighborhoods to identify any new residences that may not already have been in the agency’s database. According to the bureau, those workers will not knock on doors. They will just update the database and leave census packets by the door for residents.
The Census Bureau also has said it will ask Congress to allow the agency to postpone its report on the final results of the count until April 30, 2021. The bureau previously was scheduled to present those results on December 31, 2020. The U.S. Constitution requires the nation to complete a full count of the population every 10 years, so pushing the final report into 2021 will require Congressional approval.
Do I have to complete the census to get a coronavirus stimulus check from the government?
No. Every 10 years a new scam pops up that tries to take advantage of confusion during a crisis. Stimulus checks would not be connected to the census survey in any way.
What is Census Day?
April 1, 2020 is Census Day. That’s because when you complete your survey for the 2020 count, all of your answers should be based on the information that was accurate for that specific date: your permanent residence, how many people were living in your household, etc. By April 1, every home in the nation also should have received at least one invitation to complete the census.
I lost my job. Is the Census Bureau still hiring?
Many of the temporary positions to help out with the 2020 national count have been filled already, but the bureau is continuing to accept applications and will be bringing on more staff. If you’re interested, you can apply through the 2020 Census Jobs website.
How can I avoid a census worker coming to my home?
If you complete your forms promptly, you can prevent a worker from visiting your home. By now you should have received an invitation in the mail to complete your census survey online, by phone or with mail-in forms. It usually takes less than 15 minutes to complete the form online. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, the agency has temporarily suspended in-person interviews from workers who help people complete the survey.
Do I have to pay anything to complete the census?
No. Completing the questionnaire for your household is free, no matter whether you do it online, by phone or by mail. Any request for money in exchange for completing the form is a scam.
Will the census ask for my Social Security number?
No. Your citizenship, as well as your political and religious beliefs, is among the other questions the census does not ask.
I recently filled out the American Community Survey forms. Do I still need to do the 2020 Census form?
Every year the Census Bureau randomly selects more than 3 million households to fill out the American Community Survey (ACS). That questionnaire is very detailed and is used to help policymakers and researchers get a deeper understanding of life in America at that moment. But the ACS is not the 2020 census. If you are selected to participate in this survey, you will still need to fill out the 2020 census questionnaire.
(More information on voter
suppression tactics next week)