Voter Suppression: A National Epidemic

I’ll never forget my father’s excitement to go to the polls in November of 2008 to cast his vote for presidential candidate, Barack Obama. That excitement was only surpassed by the election of Obama, becoming the first African American president of the United States.

 My dad didn’t talk much about his growing up in rural Louisiana. Plaquemine Parish is a small community just outside of Baton Rouge. But I know it wasn’t easy, to say the least. He has told me stories of being stopped by police not just in the south but in Denver and Aurora, Colorado.

His offense? Driving while Black. Being in the “wrong” neighborhood.

And voting for Black folks living in the rural south was not an easy task back in the day ~ late 50’s, 60’s, 70‘s. Keeping Black people from voting by threatening them was just the way it was. Today, we call that voter suppression, and it’s mostly accomplished by “rules.”

 “What is voter suppression?”, someone asked me recently. Let me be clear. Voter suppression is a means to keep a certain group of people from exercising their legal and constitutional right to vote - to silence their voices and minimize their influence.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, says voter rights are under attack across the country. States are passing laws that lead to a significant burden for eligible voters to “exercise their fundamental constitutional right.” Who are the eligible voters being targeted? Black, Brown people, the elderly, students and people with disabilities.

On May 11, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order establishing the “President Commission on Election Integrity.”  This New York Times article spells out the details of this commission:

On January 3, 2018, the so called “Voter Fraud Commission” was disbanded by Trump – having come under fire by voting rights advocates and many States for creating, rather than eliminating, barriers for citizens to exercise their rights.

Since the 2016 election, nine (9) states with Republican legislatures have passed laws making it harder to vote.

As the midterm elections quickly approach, voter suppression allegations are taking center stage. In Georgia’s hotly contested gubernatorial race, one new restriction is that registered voters’ names must match exactly their driver’s license or social security card. What if you have a nickname on one document and your full name on another? That’s right - in Georgia you’d be out of luck. No voting for you.

As an aside, funny how the IRS can always find me … no matter what name I have on any document. (Not that I’m trying to hide from the IRS – ssshhhh!)

As many of you know, I report quite a bit from Africa. As I recently described the stories I’m currently working on in Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan and South Sudan to someone he said, “I haven’t been to Africa since college and it’s just so sad how little it’s changed from then. The leadership has moved from one corrupt monarchy to the next.”

Hmmm. What this country is experiencing now with voter suppression in, let’s pick a state, Georgia, where the guy running for the highest office in the state is also running the election, is some serious craziness happenin! Right?! Let’s get off our first-world high horse and clean up our own mess before we start looking sideways at developing countries!

Tamara's father_Dr Stewart.jpg

Dr. Stewart, my dad, (image above) passed away a few years ago. Barack Obama was in his second term at the time. So, my dad got to vote for him twice. Fortunately, he did not have to witness or become a victim of voter suppression today. But millions of other eligible Americans are at risk of having one of their most basic rights taken away.

Are you being kept from voting? If you feel you are being targeted don’t wait until the last minute on Election Day. Contact your state or national legislator now. It’s your right. It’s your duty.

Think your vote doesn’t matter? Then ask yourself, why are so many “officials” trying to stop you from exercising that right? No excuses now, VOTE!