The 2018 midterm elections will likely be among the most important in recent history, as Democrats seek to subdue a president they believe to be destructive and the Republican Party remains ardent in protecting President Donald Trump’s agenda by maintaining control of both houses of the legislative branch.
This election cycle has also been underscored by threats to democracy: Officials across the country have subjected minority groups to voter suppression and disenfranchisement.
Violations of democratic rights must prompt an equally strong response from those who are able to vote. Replacing candidates who suppress and disenfranchise their constituents is necessary to restore inherent rights and liberties.
A prime example of voter suppression is found in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, where Stacey Abrams, a black woman, is facing off against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. In his capacity as secretary of state, Kemp has the power to deny voter registrations, a seeming conflict of interest. In his position of power, he has the authority to block registration through Georgia’s “exact match” method. If your voter registration materials don’t match the information held within the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or with the Social Security Administration, your registration could be held.
His office has placed 53,000 registrations on hold to avoid undermining the system. Of those purged, 70 percent are black voters. This situation has gained due national attraction that even former President Jimmy Carter performed an unusual act of intervening to implore Kemp to resign.
In the 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court effectively condoned racist and undemocratic voter laws. The decision voided Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, eliminating the part of the law that required jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression to receive approval from the Department of Justice before changing their voting policies. The resulting lack of supervision in the South has allowed for the resurgence of post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow-era practices. Within 24 hours of the decision, Texas announced plans to strengthen voter ID laws, and Mississippi and Alabama began to enforce previously barred policies soon after.
Voter suppression is not a new phenomenon. From 1898 to 1915, black Americans toiled through grandfather clauses, which prevented them from voting because their ancestors were disenfranchised, and the scare tactics of the Ku Klux Klan. Even after the legal protections awarded by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, minorities are still dissuaded from using their most potent weapon in achieving equality.
The black community has been a major victim of voter disenfranchisement as well. Because of their imprisonment, 2.3 million black Americans — who are incarcerated at disproportionate rates compared to white people — are unable to vote. Felon voting rights differ from state to state, but only 14 states and Washington, D.C., permit felons to vote upon release. Unfortunately, many black people are incarcerated for minor infractions related to the possession or usage of marijuana.
There are many ways as students that we can fight voter suppression, most importantly by holding officials accountable and lobbying for progressive regulations. For those of us who do have the power to successfully vote, we need to elect representatives who uphold ethical procedures. To make this goal a reality, everyone who can vote in this election must.
Through initiatives on campus like GU Votes, Georgetown has emphasized how crucial each individual is in holding this country accountable to its proclaimed ideals. I urge everyone to always capitalize on their opportunity to vote in elections. Although voting is often referred to as a right, oppressive tactics and policy have turned it into a privilege based on identity. We should all appreciate the vote because in a plethora of instances, it has been taken away from too many.
Alexis Smith is a freshman in the College.