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How racial politics still suppress the vote

Laws restricting voting are less overt than in the days of segregation. But many impediments — some subtle, some blatant — remain for Americans of color.

The big picture: That's changing at this very moment — slowly, and very unevenly.


Why it matters: Demographic tides are changing what America looks like. The more people vote, the more our public life will reflect those changes.

  • Some barriers are being lowered — partly in an effort to make voting safer in the pandemic, and partly because of awareness brought about by this summer’s racial-justice demonstrations.
  • In some red states, though, officials are actually trying to restrict voting further.

Between the lines: Joe Biden has leaned into these trends — by naming the first woman of color as his running mate, by promising that his first choice for the Supreme Court will be the first African-American woman to be nominated, and by making plans for the most diverse cabinet in American history.

Driving the news: Modern voter suppression is achieved through practices like polling place closures, vote-by-mail restrictions, erroneous voter roll purges and overly burdensome voter ID requirements.

Be smart: Here are the facts about voter fraud, mail-in and early voting, how racial politics still shape laws — and why voters of all races and partisan leanings should care.

Actual instances of actual voter fraud are extremely rare.

  • President Trump's Election Integrity Commission found no evidence of voter fraud and disbanded.
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray testified last month that his agency "not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise."
  • Federal courts aren't buying it; judges have dismissed lawsuits in several states where the Trump campaign and RNC have challenged mail-in-ballots on grounds that voter fraud might occur.
  • A 2017 Brennan Center report examined 42 jurisdictions in the 2016 election and found voter fraud “exceedingly rare.” Of 23.5 million votes examined, election officials found 30 incidents (0.0001% of votes cast).

Don't forget: U.S. elections are run by states. That empowers some to push restrictions that disproportionately impact people of color, said Wilfred Codrington III, a Brooklyn Law School professor and Brennan Center fellow. So how much access you have to democracy is "totally dependent on where you live."

  • In several states — from Texas to Montana — judges have rejected voter restrictions laws, finding they intentionally targeted Hispanics, Black Americans and Native Americans.
  • Other states have linked criminal records to one's right to vote, disenfranchising millions of disproportionately Black men who have served their time.
  • Historic barriers to voting are one reason why voter turnout among non-white Americans has historically been much lower than whites, although recent elections may flip those trends.

What's next: The pandemic has put a spotlight on these issues and made everyone, including affluent white voters, more aware of limitations around modern-day voting.

  • As the nation becomes more diverse, who constitutes the majority and who controls political power are changing. Laws that promote fairness and access to voting while protecting ballot security serve all Americans in the long run.

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