Benavides: Voter suppression will run rampant if we don’t stop it

Austin Benavides, Columnist

Last week, a video from the Kentucky Exposition Center on the day of the state’s Democratic primary went viral. The video showed local residents banging on the doors of the only voting site for the over 600,000 residents of Louisville.

In the last few months, scenes similar to this have appeared in primaries across the country.

Residents in Georgia had to wait hours in line, despite state efforts to ensure every registered voter received an absentee ballot. Similar long lines appeared in Milwaukee and Philadelphia despite local efforts to distribute absentee ballots.

Voter suppression is not new for the United States. For as long as citizens of the U.S. have been able to vote, voter suppression has been an active tool for politicians to maintain a white, capitalist and imperialist grasp on the government.

Throughout history, people in power have explicitly denied the right to vote through the legal system, and when that wasn’t enough, they used intimidation tactics, loopholes and disinformation campaigns to maintain the effectiveness of their suppression efforts.

But, as fears mount over potential vectors of infection from polling places because of the coronavirus pandemic, local officials have attached themselves to these terrors and used them as a new breeding ground for potentially even more suppressive laws.

While states like Georgia have tried to give every eligible voter an absentee ballot, other states like Texas have not put in the work to make mail-in voting accessible. Just last month, Texas’ attorney general told voters that fear of contracting COVID-19 is not an eligible reason to receive a mail-in ballot.

President Donald Trump tweeted on multiple occasions of the rampant voter fraud carried out by mail-in ballots, despite the fact that cases of absentee voter fraud are virtually nonexistent. Those who tout those claims like the president are only continuing a legacy of voter intimidation that will ramp up come November.

By equating mail-in voting with potential fraud, politicians are giving voters the impression that if they make any mistake while voting, they may be sharply penalized and potentially lose their right to vote altogether.

Even if voters wanted to play it safe and vote in person, reduced hours, restricted voting locations and legislative obstacles given through the state attempt to stop them from placing their vote.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, mail-in ballots seem like the safest alternative to in-person voting, but we cannot neglect those that rely on in-person voting measures as their only means to vote. Unhoused individuals, people with disabilities, American Indians and many other groups rely on voting sites because of systemic state efforts that attempted to disenfranchise them.

But how can states get away with this? Many of the federal voter protections installed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act essentially expired in 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled several of its provisions as unnecessary in Shelby County v. Holder.

Already, voter suppression efforts taking advantage of the disarray caused by the coronavirus have affected these early primaries, but what has just taken place is merely a testing phase for how November’s election will be thrown into disarray.

My prediction is that these campaigns about voter fraud will intensify, not just from the president but from his own party and possibly Democrats as well. Simultaneously, even more restrictions on polling places will roll out, especially if the second wave of the virus kicks in during the fall.

As for what we can do, asking people to simply vote out people who put these policies in place is not enough. We also need to go out to the streets and demand reform at the polling places and the local, state and federal legislatures.

Voting restrictions have consistently been used to define the narrative of whose voice matters in our country; now is a critical point for us to redefine the narrative and give each individual the right they have been denied for so long.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @awstinbenavides