Voter
Suppression

Voter suppression laws in many states laws pose significant barriers to voting, especially for minorities and low-income Americans, who tend to lean Democratic.

For the most part, suppression laws are predicated on the phantom threat of voter fraud, a myth propagated largely by the Republican Party. There is no credible evidence to suggest that fraud takes place on a large scale: in fact, voter fraud or voter impersonation is about as unlikely to occur “as being struck by lightning,” according to a Brennan Center for Justice report, which found incident rates of voter fraud between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. Another study by the Washington Post cited 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.

After the 2010 election, state lawmakers nationwide introduced hundreds of bills with harsh measures making it harder to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions, as well as limiting college student voting where they attend school, among other measures. Strict photo ID regulations threaten to disenfranchise many black and Hispanic voters who do not own a car or have a passport, and minorities and the poor disproportionately use early voting opportunities.

Overall, 23 states have new restrictions in effect since then — 10 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have strict photo ID requirements), seven have laws making it harder for citizens to register, six cut back on early voting days and hours, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions. In 2016, 14 states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.  

In 2017, legislatures in Arkansas and in North Dakota passed voter ID bills, which governors in each state signed, and Missouri implemented a restrictive law that was passed by ballot initiative in 2016. Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, and New Hampshire have also enacted more restrictions this year, in addition to laws that were on the books for previous elections. Suppression laws are being challenged in the courts. These include the Ohio law that purges registered voters who do not vote over a two-year period.

In a victory for voting rights, the Supreme Court last year refused to review a lower court decision striking down a North Carolina law that slashed early voting times, eliminated same-day registration and killed preregistration for teenagers, among other measures. The appeals court had ruled that the law was intentionally designed to discriminate against black voters: North Carolina legislators had requested data on voting patterns by race and, with that data in hand, drafted a law that would "target African-Americans with almost surgical precision," the court said.