September 8, 2020

Fighting Voter Suppression & Protecting the Vote in 2020

Voter suppression is any effort—illegal or legal by the way of laws or administrative rules and tactics—that prevents eligible voters from voting. Used as a means to influence and control election outcomes, voter suppression is a threat to democracy and fair representation. 

Unfortunately, there are a wide range of examples of voter suppression tactics and they are not a new concept. Ahead of this November election, we spoke with local community leaders on how people of color, the elderly and folks with disabilities are disproportionately affected by voter suppression—and what we can do about it. 

What can voter suppression look like? 

Below are four examples of voter suppression highlighted in our conversation. You can view the full discussion here. 

#1: Closing of polling locations

Lorena Aguayo-Márquez, an activist with Movimiento Cosecha GR, went to her polling location in 2019 to vote and found that her polling location was closed. The closing or last minute changes to polling locations where people vote in person is one example of voter suppression. There are many cases where the closing of polling locations disproportionately impacts voters of color. 


#2: Disinformation campaigns

Breannah Alexander Oppenhuizen, Disability and Racial Justice Organizer at the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, reminded us that “disinformation campaigns disincentivizing people by saying that their vote doesn’t really matter” is another form of suppression. Every vote does matter. For example, in 2016, Trump won Michigan by an extremely narrow margin of 0.23%. 


#3: Materials unavailable in other languages

“For the immigrant community and Latino community, not having materials translated into Spanish is one form of voter suppression,” Lorena pointed out. Almost one-quarter of Michiganders are naturalized citizens, and in Kent County over 12% of households speak another language besides English at home. Having materials available in other languages and offering language assistance (as required by law) ensures voting remains accessible for all US citizens. 


#4: Hopeless narratives perpetuated online and by media 

“When you’re already disenfranchised it doesn't take much to make you feel hopeless, and when you’re constantly receiving information that says ‘Hey, voting for Joe Biden is no different than voting for Donald Trump’, that gets to you eventually!” Breannah reminded us. In a very literal sense and in our age of disagreement on core issues, particularly those impacting communities of color, this is just untrue. 

Richard Griffin, Smart Justice Field Organizer at the ACLU, also encouraged people “use [platforms like Ballotpedia and the like] to really investigate the candidate to make an informed decision instead of just the media’s choice”. If you “follow a candidate's platform, where their money is coming from, how they voted on other policies, what their track record looks like and what other organizations they’re connected to” you can better understand the differences between candidates.

What can you do to protect the vote? 

Fighting voter suppression sometimes entails legal challenges, but also help from community members like you. Election workers are paid to help combat voter suppression by supporting voters on election day. They make sure policies are being followed, provide information, assistance and more. Election workers create a welcoming environment, too! This can be especially important for newer voters.

To find out how you can serve as an election worker, please view eligibility requirements. Complete the election worker inspector form. Then, return it to Kent County - Grand Rapids City, Clerk Joel Hondorp at mkorstan@grcity.us or at 300 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

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