The Racist History of Voter Suppression Laws

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The US congressional elections are an essential democratic attribute of the entire country, attracting more and more voters every year. However, this event was far from always free from prejudices, discriminatory cases, and much more. Historically, suffrage has only gradually become available to racial minorities, older people, and women. Needless to say, in every election, there is a severe power struggle between Republicans and Democrats, which is why tensions escalate even without taking into account cases of discrimination. The term “suppression of voters” in the United States is traditionally understood as several measures that, in one way or another, tighten the access of citizens to voting or make it difficult to participate in it. In particular, this is a reduction in the number of polling stations, stricter requirements for identity cards, a ban on voting for former prisoners, revision of the voter list without notification, and others. This paper examines the main reasons, historical milestones in such a political problem as suppression of voters; the issues are presented in the context of the elections of recent years, as well as such global factors as the pandemic.

Voters Suppression

This problem is one of the most discussed and essential in the context of congressional elections. Suppression of voters manifests itself in attempts to remove or psychologically dissuade American citizens from registering to vote or casting their votes (Fighting Voter Suppression, n.d.). The forms of manifestation of this suppression can be different: from reducing the number of hours at certain polling stations, denying the possibility of voting to particular groups, reducing the possibility of remote voting, and much more. As an indirect and mandatory component of democracy, inclusiveness suffers at different levels, from federal and legislative to civil. By gradually complicating the process of admitting or registering to a polling station, the authorities indirectly provide access to fewer people. For example, a decree by the Governor of Texas prohibits round-the-clock voting, eliminates pass-through voting, introduces new mandates for voting by mail, makes mass mailing of ballots for government employees a criminal offense, and gives biased voting (Arce, 2021). In fact, these measures in the pandemic era only limit access to elections rather than give more freedom to voters.

Historically, suppression of voters has focused on black Americans, and later on, Hispanics. Echoes of the past can still be seen in the actions of modern politicians and citizens, but now more and more discriminatory achievements have a competitive connotation. In other words, with the growth of young activists in the electorate, illegal actions are committed to winning elections and not discriminating on one specific characteristic of the identity of other citizens (Nicholas, 2021). In addition, Biden’s current policies are focused on infrastructure reforms, which he is pushing for with great zeal. However, such energy should also be channeled into electoral issues, which have limitations and impossibilities for reform (Nicholas, 2021). Those who have the power to bring about such changes are so far focused on something else.

The current situation shows that reforms are almost undoubtedly overdue and require decisive action or attention from the state. First, the recent case of the capture of the Capitol proves this fact (Pitzer et al., 2021). Second, a relatively large percentage of the population, the majority of which is of color, live in jurisdictions free from federal government oversight, which is a direct cause of the suppression of voter rights (Arce, 2021). Each state annually considers a total of more than three hundred bills, one way or another restricting the electoral rights of certain groups of citizens. Nevertheless, activists’ actions do not pass without leaving a trace, and gradually certain groups begin to gain access to registration and the voting process.

The years 1965 and 1975 were critical in the history of the voting rights of the colored population in the United States, but recently in 2013, some of the protections of the 1965 Act were removed, leading to a new wave of protests. Since then, the tendency of power has only intensified in the adoption of laws that somehow restrict voters’ rights (Fighting Voter Suppression, n.d.). Such measures are taken at the level of individual states or counties – federal law in the United States regulates only the general principles of the electoral process. Analyzing who and where makes it difficult shows that this is mainly happening in the Republican states. Formally, for the sake of preventing election fraud. However, the number of such falsifications is negligible, which both parties recognize (Clark, 2018). Democrats are convinced, voter suppression reflects an attempt by the white population to fix the status quo in a rapidly changing racial and ethnic picture (Clark, 2018). A picture that does not look very encouraging for Native white Americans: the Colored and Hispanic population in the United States is growing much faster, and it is traditionally more supportive of Democrats.

According to official figures, as of July 2017, over 325 million people were living in the United States. More than 200 million of them have the right to vote: experts speak only approximately since no electoral commission in the country would keep the corresponding records (Shattuck, 2019). It is even harder to say how many people are disenfranchised or unable to vote, but the bill goes into the millions based on the situation in individual states. The starting point for the introduction of restrictions, according to many experts, was the 2012 elections, when Democrat Barack Obama was re-elected for a second presidential term. The politician’s headquarters managed to mobilize about 15 million new supporters, mainly from among African American and colored youth. As a result, then Obama voted for five million more people (Hayter, 2017). The statistics of recent years confirm that it has become more difficult to vote in many US states. Since 2013, more than 1,000 polling stations have been closed in nine states controlled by Republicans, including those with a high concentration of people of color (Hayter, 2017). The pandemic has created a solid pretext for new restrictions that may somehow affect future elections (Hasen, 2020). Thus, the local authorities have a more significant influence on the suppression of elections, which is demonstrated by the events above.


Finding a balance between maintaining a secure and transparent electoral system and fair access to voter registration is a priority that needs to be addressed at both the federal and local state levels. Previously, many states did not require a photo ID to vote at all – it was enough to verify the signature and take the word for it. Naturally, the system has evolved since then and has many positive features, despite the problems. The next election campaign in the United States again challenges the country’s archaic electoral and political system, or rather the voters themselves, many of whom do not want to change what has already been working for many years, even if it does not suit everyone. What will be more robust – the desire to preserve traditions or the demand for change – will only be shown by the upcoming elections.


Arce, J. (2021). The racist history of voter suppression laws. UnidosUS.

Clark, J. (2018). Widening the Lens on Voter Suppression: From Calculating Lost Votes to Fighting for Effective Voting Rights. UC Berkeley: Othering & Belonging Institute.

Fighting Voter Suppression. (n.d.). League of Women Voters of the US. Web.

Hasen, R. L. (2020). Three Pathologies of American Voting Rights Illuminated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, and How to Treat and Cure Them. Election Law Journal, 19(3).

Hayter, J. M. (2017). The Rise and Fall of the Voting Rights Act by Charles S. Bullock III, Ronald Keith Gaddie, and Justin J. Wert (review). Journal of Southern History, 83(3), 750-751

Nicholas, P. (2021). Is Biden Doing Enough to Protect Democracy? The Atlantic.

Pitzer, K., Mcclendon, G. G. & Sherraden, M. (2021). Voting Infrastructure and Process: Another Form of Voter Suppression? Social Service Review, 95(2).

Shattuck, J., Huang, A. & Thoreson-Green, E. (2019). The War on Voting Rights. Carr Center Discussion Paper Series.

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DemoEssays. "The Racist History of Voter Suppression Laws." February 14, 2023.