Diversity and Community Engagement

The University of Mississippi

Posts Tagged ‘voting rights’

UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture Addresses Voter Suppression

Posted on: November 11th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Team Leader Jenna Santacroce recaps recent events offered this fall through the Center for the Study of Southern Culture addressing voter suppression and voting rights.

The 2020 Presidential election is one of the most monumental in history. The country, so clearly divided and polarized, is experiencing extreme pushback on both ends of the political spectrum. The University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture (CSSC) hosted three virtual events which discussed the ways in which some American citizens cast their ballots without issue, while others are severely affected by “voter suppression.” Voter suppression is any effort to influence the outcome of an election by preventing eligible voters from registering to vote or casting their ballot. Voter suppression, which looks much different now than it does in history, is disguised as an attempt to mitigate “voter fraud,” or illegal interference with the election process by voter impersonation, duplicate voting, ineligible and false registrations, and more. Studies have proven voter fraud to be a rare occurrence, however, by claiming to prevent voter fraud, political leaders are able to establish standards and implement policies that prevent certain individuals from voting. The most affected group of individuals who face voter suppression are people of color. The elderly, students, and people with disabilities are also affected by voter suppression. 

Historian Carol Anderson, alongside other historian colleagues, discussed the history of voter suppression during the Speaker Sessions and Roundtable Discussions hosted by CSSC. They shared that while some groups are affected more than others, voter suppression at large does not follow one specific mode and does not have one specific target. Historically, voter suppression has included outright violence and aggression as well as systematic suppression through government policies. Often, these policies target the most vulnerable (such as the elderly and people with disabilities), or groups that have faced long standing social and political suppression, notably communities of color. Starting after the Reconstruction, southern states began to implicate policies to repress votes, justifying these policies were reasonable for protecting the election. Poll taxes and literacy tests were deemed necessary to fund elections and to provide for an educated electorate, however these laws intentionally overlooked the long standing effects of slavey and poverty, charging disproportionate amounts and ignoring the underfunding of African American schools throughout the south. 

Discriminatory policies escape scrutiny by appearing “universal,” ignoring how one policy will affect groups differently. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped to alleviate barriers to voting, especially in the south, by outlawing poll taxes and literacy tests and by monitoring areas known for voter suppression. However, voter suppression continues due to government loopholes and denial of responsibility. Voter suppression today takes on a familiar but different form.

The historians in these CSSC events explained how to identify voter suppression today as it is less blatant and much more covert. Limited access to polling locations is one of the most prominent modern tactics of voter suppression. In Georgia specifically, where CSSC speaker Carol Anderson is from, there are exceptionally long lines at voting stations. This year, the state of Georgia purchased new voting machines despite being advised not to by election officials. The machines were inefficient and created a lengthy voting process by requiring the voter to insert a piece of paper, taking the time to process the paper, then processing the citizens’ votes. Also, these new voting machines were large and only a limited amount were able to fit in voting locations, therefore, only a limited number of people were able to vote at once. The state of Georgia knowingly established a voting system that required voters to wait for hours in lines. People may leave these long lines and tell their friends, family, and communities, inadvertently discouraging them to vote. Carol Ansderson explains these long lines are not accidents and have happened repeatedly in history. These long lines are designed tactics of voter suppression.

New voter identification laws are a heavily debated form of voter suppression. Following the Supreme Court case of Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013, areas with a history of voter suppression are no longer required to receive federal approval for policy changes related to voter eligibility. Similar to using the justification of “universal application” from past policies, voter ID laws are subjective because they can often prioritize access to one type of ID over another, and do not take into account how difficult it may be to receive an identification card due to cost, time, or geographical location. Texas, for example, has allowed the use of firearm registration cards as acceptable voter ID, but has not allowed student ID. This is especially perilous in large states, where citizens may not have easy access to locations to receive adequate identification. The repeal of sections of the Voting Rights Act also led to voter roll purges across the country. Voter roll purges disproportionately target new voters and people of color, by targeting those without a history of repeated voting or by matching voter registration across states by name only, not incorporating any other identifying information. These voter roll purges also removed names if the information did not exactly match information in a state record book, so registrations with minor misspellings or different uses of hyphens were removed.

There is no clear path to remove discriminatory voting laws or practices. There have been calls to create an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees universal suffrage, however one has not been passed yet. The best thing we can do to eliminate voter fraud is to learn about voting rights, and to report states and voting sites that violate these rights. Grassroots organizations and civil rights groups continue to advocate for increased access to voting. The speakers at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture discussions are hopeful that with enough public pressure, we can work towards ensuring everyone has equal access to voting.


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Voter Intimidation and Your Right to Vote

Posted on: October 29th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this blog post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Caroline Leonard shares important information about voter intimidation and your right to vote on Election Day. 

Voter Intimidation and Your Right to Vote

Voter intimidation is illegal in all 50 states. This means that you can not be coerced, threatened, or otherwise swayed to vote a specific way at the polling site. Additionally, many states do not allow campaigning for specific candidates within a certain distance of polling locations. The following information applies directly to Mississippi elections, but information about voter intimidation and armed militias for different states can be found at: Georgetown Law: Protection Against Voter Intimidation and  Georgetown Law: State Fact Sheets. If you want more information, look for the website for your local or state election office.

What voter intimidation can look like:

Voter intimidation is using threats and other intimidation tactics to alter how people will vote or to dissuade or prevent them from voting. Voter intimidation included spreading false information about voting requirements, using verbal threats, inciting or threatening to incite violence, recording information about voters and following them in the polling location, or blocking people from entering the polling location. Additionally, any sort of unauthorized militia is illegal. If you are confronted by an organized group holding weapons, threatening violence, or attempting to act as a militia, contact the authorities.

Furthermore, campaigning, displaying the slogans or likenesses of candidates, or otherwise trying to solicit votes is illegal within 150 feet of a polling location unless it is on private property. Poll watchers may be appointed by individual candidates or political parties to monitor polling sites, however they cannot interact with voters, handle any ballot, or assist in voting. Candidates for office, their immediate relatives, and employers also cannot assist someone directly with voting. These would also be forms of voter intimidation or coercion.

What to do if you feel unsafe:

If you experience voter intimidation there are different steps you can take. If there is immediate danger, call 911. If there is no present danger, notify a poll worker at the polling location, and if they are unable to help you can contact a poll watcher, the circuit clerk for your county, or you can contact the Secretary of State’s office if poll workers or watchers appear biased. Report what happened, when, where, and if there were other voters deterred from voting. If you encounter an armed group, try to take note of any insignias or flags they have, if they are operating in an organized or patrolling way, if they have weapons and what kind, and if they are interacting with voters. However, safety is the top priority. Do not approach the armed group to try and get more information.

There are multiple national election hotlines to call to report cases of voter intimidation, and for general help on the election day:

For English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)

For Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)

For Arabic: 844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)

For Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali: 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683) 

For a Video Call in American Sign Language:  301-818-VOTE (301-818-8683)

Mississippi Secretary of State’s Election Hotline: 800-829-6786

If you believe your rights have been violated, you can also contact:

The ACLU: 601-354-3408 or letmevote@aclu.org

The US Department of Justice Voting Rights Section: 800-253-3931

 

Your Right to Vote:

You have a right to vote in the county you are registered in free from harassment or coercion. You are entitled to assistance in voting if needed. Additionally, there are a few alternative ballots you may encounter in addition to the standard ballot. These include:

  • Affidavit Ballot: If you do not have a photo ID with you on election day, the poll worker rules your ID to not resemble you closely enough, if you are not listed in the pollbook, or if you have changed addresses (still within the same county) but did not change your listed residence before the election, you can vote via affidavit ballot. If you vote with an affidavit ballot, you will have to go to the circuit clerk’s office within 5 days of the election to show valid ID. You should be given written instruction on how to check if your ballot was counted when you vote.
  • Curbside Ballot: If you are unable to enter the polling location but you are still able to drive to the location on election day, you are entitled to curbside voting. After presenting your photo ID, you will be provided with a paper ballot or a way to electronically cast your ballot from your car. For the 2020 election, you are entitled to curbside voting if you have symptoms of Covid-19.
  • Emergency Ballot: If there is a power outage or if electronic voting methods are otherwise rendered unavailable, voting should continue as normal. Follow the instructions of the poll workers.
  • Spoiled Ballot: If you mismark a paper ballot you are entitled to ask for a new one. Additionally, if your electronic ballot malfunctions, you can ask for assistance or a substitute ballot.
  • Challenged Ballot: On election day, your ability to vote may be challenged. If your voter eligibility is challenged, you still have the right to cast a ballot. In the event of a challenged ballot, a poll worker will pull you and the challenger aside to ask questions about voter eligibility. If the poll workers unanimously decide you are eligible to vote, you can cast a regular ballot. If they unanimously rule you are ineligible to vote, you can still cast a ballot but it will be instantly rejected. If they cannot reach a decision, you will fill out a challenged ballot, and they will decide its validity later on.

 


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