To suppress something means to restrain or prevent the development, action or expression of it.
In the United States, a country glorified and known for its extensive freedom and democracy, there are still groups willing to go to extremes to ensure the government is run to their liking. Beyond campaigning for their own beliefs, they will make both subtle and bold attempts to sabotage the voting behaviors of the opposing side.
Voter suppression is not a product of the 21st century, either. It’s almost as old as the nation itself.
Before voting rights were universal, they were given to only free white men who owned land, as it was believed that only citizens with a substantial stake in the economy could vote wisely. Flaws in this perspective became more apparent as time went on and by 1850, all white males could vote. The 15th amendment, passed in 1870, gave voting rights to all citizens regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Rather than enforcing this amendment, many Southern states instead enacted Jim Crow laws in 1877 to suppress Black voters. They used tactics that disproportionately affected Black communities, like expensive poll taxes and nearly impossible literacy tests. Black voters were intimidated, discouraged, and bullied, resulting in only 3% of the Black voting-age population being registered to vote in 1940, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Legislation allowing women to vote didn’t pass until 1920 with the 19th Amendment. The same for African Americans, men AND women, weren’t guaranteed until 1965 with the Voting Rights Act.
More recently, voter suppression has been hidden behind concerns to keep elections secure, fair and clean. Gerrymandering or the strategic dividing and arranging of voting districts skews results and ultimately give one party an advantage over another. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University, explained how this worked in a recent interview with ABC News.
“[It] either dilutes their vote, or it makes it hyper-concentrated so it dilutes in other places. It’s packing and cracking and you can use mathematical solutions to look at a state and look at where people of color are, especially Black people in a particular area distributed throughout the state,” Greer said.
The intentional spreading of misinformation is also a method used to suppress voters. Social media will often show maps or polls with one candidate winning by a large margin to provide a false sense of security. President Trump has tweeted about his disdain for mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, stating it would allow “rampant and unchecked cheating” and “induce violence,” though there is no evidence of either.
Jaelyn Guyton, FAMU’s chief diversity officer, is well versed in the strategies used to keep people away from the polls.
“Voter suppression is Texas limiting mail-in drop boxes to 1 in an entire county. It’s Florida requiring you to match your signature. It’s the fact that Election Day isn’t a federal holiday,” Guyton said.
“My friend was recently traveling and told me this horrific story of Trump supporters blocking the road in Tampa and running Black people off the road. He could see the look in another driver’s face through his rear-view and the terror painted across it — that’s voter suppression,” he added.