by Baratunde Thurston / Huffington Post / Originally posted Sept. 18, 2008
It’s that time in the American political cycle again, when politicians and activists and famous people and your family members tell you how important it is to vote. They tell you this election is more important than ever. They tell you if you don’t vote, you don’t count.
But what about the votes that don’t count? What about the systematic attempts to erect barriers between voters and the ballot box? What about voter suppression?
In order to educate, document and mobilize action, I’m excited to introduce the Voter Suppression Wiki.
[Go here for the original article and a short video made by Thurston.]
Here’s a useful definition from Wikipedia
Voter suppression is a form of electoral fraud and refers to the use of governmental power, political campaign strategy, and private resources aimed at suppressing (i.e. reducing) the total vote of opposition candidacies instead of attempting to change likely voting behavior by changing the opinions of potential voters. This method is particularly effective if a significant amount of voters are intimidated individually because the voter might not consider his or her single vote important.
America has an uneven history with voting rights. For generations, half the population was prevented from exercising its right to vote. And, while on paper, black men could vote, the reality was never close to the ideal. There is no federal right to vote. Voting is controlled by the states, and many states have had a history of trying to limit the votes of certain groups, especially blacks and poor whites.The National Voting Rights Act was established in 1965 to outlaw some forms of discriminatory voting practices and is regularly renewed by the U.S. Congress (unless Republicans are messing around)
The Present & Future Of Voter Suppression
So how does voter suppression work today, and what’s emerging as the new way to undermine our democracy? Some helpful definitions from The Progressive States Network.
- Voter intimidation “takes many forms from videotaping or asking inappropriate questions of voters in a polling place, to placing heavily armed police outside poll sites, and distributing threatening flyers announcing the penalties for voting fraud”
- Deceptive practices “involves using disinformation campaigns to prevent targeted populations from voting”
- Caging “is the practice of sending non-forwardable mail to voters and challenging the eligibility of every person for whom the mail is returned as undeliverable”
- Voter ID laws “are not intended to prevent in-person voter fraud, of which there is almost no evidence, but are truly designed for the simple purpose of suppressing the vote of groups less likely to have or be able to obtain the required ID – the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and racial and ethnic minorities”
- Proof of citizenship laws “are requirements to provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, and in some instances every time you vote”
- Registration drive restrictions “have a discriminatory effect as African Americans and members of Spanish speaking households are twice as likely to be registered through a voter registration drive than whites or members of English speaking households.”
- Lack of poll site resources “sometimes have the effect of disproportionately reducing the vote in minority or low income communities.”
- Poll location placement involves “placing sites in difficult to access locations [to] help suppress the vote of disfavored groups. This is an especially prevalent tactic in college towns where local leaders want to discourage the participation of students in local elections”
And there are new deceptive tactics emerging online.
Check the incident tracker on the wiki right now. There are incidents targeting the poor, college students, even veterans.
The Role Of The Wiki
The wiki has three broad goals
Educate people about voter suppression. The term encompasses a wide range of tactics designed to limit voter participation. We want the wiki to offer an explanation of what these tactics are, places to learn more about them and the laws involved.
Collect incidents of voter suppression activity. Based on a standard template, wiki users will be able to add reports of voter suppression to the wiki. Each incident has its own page with a standard form to fill in plus discussion area.
Mobilize action to combat and prevent voter suppression. Knowledge is powerful, but only to the extent that you use it to inform decisions. We don’t just want to create a group of pissed off people. We want to create a group of pissed off people who are going to write letters, make phone calls and file lawsuits to protect citizens’ votes.
How it works.
There are two groups of users: registered and unregistered.
Registered users will be able to edit pages, update entries, report incidents etc. Unregistered users can freely participate in the discussion threads at the bottom of each page. As Jon Pincus (one of the creators of the Get FISA Right web movement and advisor to me on this wiki) said…
Almost all voter suppression relies to a large extent on information asymmetry. If voters know that they may have been purged from the database and it’s still before the registration deadline, they can check and if necessary re-register. If college students know that they actually won’t put their student loans at risk by registering, then they’ll ignore the misleading information from the county. And once tens of thousands of people realized that their votes might not be counted in LA County, there was an outcry — which meant that officials had to react rather than sweeping problems under the table.
So simple as it sounds, broad awareness of potential voter suppression efforts, both during the registration period and in the final rush to voting, could make a huge difference.
What You Can Do
- Visit the wiki and update it with your own expertise. Fact check, offer improvements. Scrub the formatting. This is a community resource.
- Tell people about it. Digg this blog entry, vote it up on Daily Kos, link to it! And do the same with the wiki itself.
- Be prepared to work hard. None of the excitement of this political season matters if people don’t actually get to vote or have that vote counted.
Again, it’s votersuppressionwiki.wetpaint.com.Got ideas, suggestions, etc? Throw it in the wiki. Let’s do it.