Beyond Midterms: Voting Rights and Why They Matter

It’s midterm season, and I hope everyone has mailed their absentee ballots. Between elections, voting rights are often an overlooked topic relative to other hot-button issues like LGBTQ+ rights or immigration. As one of the most elementary, and important, rights of an American citizen, voting is the embodiment of consent of the governed. As a society, we tend to forget how important voting, and voting rights, are within maintaining fairness and expression within our society. While there are many issues with our current voting system, like difficulty of registration, gerrymandering, and low turnout, one of the biggest issues that persist is voter suppression. A number of states, including Georgia, have been able to subvert federal assessment of voting rights because of Shelby County v. Holder, a landmark Supreme Court case in 2013; the case ruled that parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were unconstitutional, specifically section 5 and 4b, which had barred certain states from changing election laws without official approval.

PHOTO: Stacey Abrams, left, and Brian Kemp.

Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams (D) and Brian Kemp (R) // Credit: AP/File

Recently, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, has taken it upon himself to both purge and avoid processing new registrations, which have a disproportionate amount of minority applications; 70% of the held back registrations are of black residents, relative to the 32% black population in Georgia. Kemp isn’t simply just purging and suppressing; he’s one of the candidates for the gubernatorial position, running against Georgia’s House Representative, Stacey Abrams. Kemp, since 2012, has cancelled 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012, and has avoided processing 53,000 registrations. Not only are these two actions blatant expressions of self interest, they are also racialized in its intent to prevent minority voters from exercising their right to express their position through the democratic process.

In Dodge City, Kansas, a similar phenomenon is occurring. Although not perpetuated by one of the candidates on the ballot, this case also disproportionately affects a minority population; Dodge City has a 60% hispanic population. Within the city, there is only one polling center that serves 27,000 people… And they plan to move it another four miles away from the city. The polling center is under construction, which had propelled the county clerk to move polling to a different location. This move, however, only makes it more difficult for voters to cast their ballot, especially those without adequate transportation. Four miles may not seem like much to some, but the shift in location only creates more confusion and hurdles in the aspect of accessibility. The ACLU has already filed a suit against the county clerk.

North Dakota incumbent senator Heidi Heitkamp // Credit: Will Kincaid/AP

 

Native Americans are facing a similar issue in North Dakota, where the Senate race for Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is especially close. Because many Native Americans do not have residential street addresses, it essentially becomes impossible for them to obtain ID. In a last minute set of new voter ID laws, enacted a little over two weeks ago on October 9th, a substantial number of Native Americans suddenly became disenfranchised. Roughly 5% of North Dakota’s population is Native American, many of which helped Heitkamp win back in 2012. Native Americans, along with all minority Americans, deserve the same accessibility to vote. The sad irony here is unmissable. A group of people, who have historically been oppressed, stripped of their property, and mistreated by the American government still have diminished rights within the institution that abused them.

Voting is an undeniable right to all citizens of our country. Protecting voting rights is essential to the maintenance of our democracy, and each individual deserves the ability to express their voice through their ballot. Voting cannot just be a hot button issue when it’s actually time to vote; it is essential that we perpetually advocate for equal accessibility for all citizens. So don’t forget to mail your ballots, and remember that voting rights are a year round issue.

Nora Ma