What Does Voter Suppression Look Like?

A yield sign with an exclamation point accompanied by small text that says "EXPLAINER" and large text that says “Voter Suppression"

The importance and power of voting is reflected not only in the brave acts of many Americans — including Congressman John Lewis, Susan B. Anthony, James Channey, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman — but in the insidious efforts by others to prevent people from voting. These efforts — known as voter suppression — take many forms, from laws that make it harder to vote, to litigation aimed at tearing down voter protections, to voter intimidation. 

Let’s break it down:

1. Suppressive voting laws

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder, ending federal oversight of voting laws in states with a history of racial discrimination in voting, suppressive laws have flourished. These laws primarily work to suppress votes by making it harder to vote. Voter ID laws are a textbook example of this. Voter ID laws add costs and logistical difficulty to voting while doing little to resolve any real problems, as in-person voter impersonation is nearly nonexistent in the United States. Voter ID laws are only the start of the problem. Newly emboldened, state officials have purged voters from state voting rolls, closed polling locations and severely restricted the ability for community groups to help voters cast a ballot. They have imposed Election Day ballot receipt deadlines that make voting by mail more unpredictable and restricted early voting hours.

2. Litigation removing voter protections

Recently, the courts are being used to further voter suppression efforts. The Trump campaign, Republican National Committee and Republican state officials have sued in courts across the country to roll back voter protections. They have already sued in California, Nevada, Montana and New Jersey to prevent state officials from making it easier for voters to vote by mail in the middle of a pandemic. And in Pennsylvania, they sued to prevent the use of ballot drop boxes for mail-in ballots. While many of these lawsuits have already been rejected, they reflect a new tactic to make voting harder.

3. Voter intimidation

Some voter suppression tactics aim to intimidate voters into not voting at all. Voter intimidation can take the form of rhetoric, threats or physical acts of intimidation, from threatening people that law enforcement or immigration authorities will be patrolling polling locations, to physically blocking the entrance to polling locations, to deploying poll workers to question voters’ eligibility. A recent example of voter intimidation occurred outside an early voting location in Fairfax County, Virginia, where maskless Trump supporters waved campaign signs and shouted “four more years” as voters entered the polling place.

4. Long lines

Long lines at the polls are one of the most visible forms of voter suppression. Every election, some voters are forced to wait in hours-long lines before entering the voting booth. Long voting lines disproportionately impact Black, Latino and young voters. A recent report studying long lines in Georgia revealed the average minimum voting wait time in minority areas in Georgia was 51 minutes, whereas in white areas, the average was only six minutes.

5. Misinformation

This year more than ever, voters are facing a deluge of misinformation about voting. Misinformation about voting is a form of voter suppression in that it is designed to confuse people about the voting process. Be aware of misleading information about voting on social media platforms and call out false claims when you see them.

Voter suppression efforts are aimed at making it too difficult, too confusing or too risky to vote. That is why it’s important to arm yourself with information about voting and make a plan on how you will vote early, and to tell your family and friends to do the same.

Voting is a seat at the table. Claim yours!