Voter Suppression: A Threat to Fair Elections

 In Action

A dozen activists gathered at the Newton home of Swing Left member Joanne Hooker last Friday to watch Suppressed: The Fight to Vote, the riveting documentary by Brave New Films producer Robert Greenwald. In one first-person account after another, the short film reveals how Georgia election officials systematically suppressed the vote–especially in communities of color — to defeat Democrat Stacey Abram’s historic, break-through candidacy for the governor’s seat in 2018.

It was part of a tidal wave of voter suppression that swept the country — through Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio, North Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and other states — after the Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act in 2013. But Georgia, where Abrams ran a very tight race, is considered Ground Zero. Abrams lost by only 55,000 votes to Republican Brian Kemp, who was Secretary of State — and therefore in charge of the state’s elections — at the same time as he himself was running against Abrams.

State election officials carried out a raft of bureaucratic dirty tricks that helped him win. Per the film:

·       53,000 voter registration forms never got processed, 80% of them from people of color.

·       890,000 eligible voters have been purged from the voting rolls since 2013.

·       500,000 of those names were purged in a single night in July 2017. 

·       214 polling places have been closed since 2013 – most of them in majority black counties.

·       281,000 Georgians requested absentee ballots, but tens of thousands didn’t receive them.

·       Registration forms were often rejected due to the state’s “exact match” spelling requirements.

·       Many provisional ballots got discarded since voters weren’t told they had three days to finalize them.

·       Long waiting lines and voting machines without power cords forced many mothers with children, the elderly, and other voters to leave; meanwhile polling places in majority white neighborhoods had no crowds and more machines than they could use

Joanne and fellow Swing Left member Lisa Kolarik — who co-hosted the Suppressed screening with her — witnessed some of these problems in North Carolina when they worked for Senate candidate Dan McCready in the recent special election there. They came away determined to focus on fighting voter suppression — with the hosting of Greenwald’s film an important follow-up step for them, because they thought it might energize other activists. And it did.

“Everyone had heard about Georgia,” Joanne says of those who came to the screening. “But to see it up-close – a state election system that seems intent on denying people their right to vote. People were horrified.”

Joanne had a voter registration activity for those who could stay a while after the film. They wrote letters to 50 Dallas voters, urging them to fill out an enclosed voter registration form because they had been identified as having been dropped from the state’s list of registered voters. And she offered them a list of organizations – including Reclaim the Vote and others – that are actively working to protect the vote in communities around the country that have been subject to voter suppression.

“We’ve got to help Democrats prepare for these same tactics in 2020,” Lisa says. “We’ve got to learn, get trained, and prepare. And we need to start now, not next summer. Listen, as the film says – if your vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to stop it.”

If you want to get involved to help fight voter suppression in 2020, come see Greater Boston Swing Left’s screening of the film Suppressed: The Fight to Vote November 24 in Central Square in Cambridge. You can sign up here.