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.
Methods of voter suppression
Jim Crow laws
In the United States
, voter suppression was used extensively in most Southern states
until the Voting Rights Act
) made most disenfranchisement and voting qualifications illegal. Traditional voter suppression tactics included the institution of poll taxes
and literacy tests
, aimed at suppressing the votes of African Americans and working class white voters.
In 2004, 5.3 million Americans were denied the right to vote because of previous felony convictions. Thirteen states permanently disenfranchise convicted felons; eighteen states restore voting rights after completion of prison, parole, and probation; four states re-enfranchise felons after they have been released from prison and have completed parole; thirteen allow felons who have been released from prison to vote, and two states do not disenfranchise felons at all. However, for states that do offer a path for restoration of voting rights, the process can often be very difficult.
The United States is the only democracy in the world that bans its felons from voting. Other countries including Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Peru, Sweden, and Zimbabwe all allow their prisoners to vote.
Some countries, notably the U.K., do not permit convicted prisoners in jail to vote but restore full civil rights on release even if that release is on parole.
In Florida during the 2000 presidential election, some non-felons were banned due to record-keeping errors and are not warned of their disqualification before they no longer had the right to contest it.
This form of vote suppression disproportionately affects minorities including African-Americans and Latinos.
Partisan election administration
Across the United States, 33 state election directors are elected partisans. The majority of the world's democracies use independent agents to manage elections. Because of their partisan ties, election officials are often presented with a confilict of interest while directing elections. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris
served as state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign during the 2000 presidential election, and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell
served as his state's Bush-Cheney co-chair during the 2004 presidential election.
Inequality in Election Day resources
Elections in the United States are funded at the local level, often unequally. In the 2004 elections, Wyoming spent $2.15 per voter while California spent $3.99 per voter. In contrast, Canada spends $9.51 per voter. This can result in long lines at the polls resulting in wait times of multiple areas predominantly in urban areas.
Caging lists have been used by political parties to eliminate potential voters from the other party's voting roll. A political party sends registered mail to addresses of registered voters. If the mail is returned as undeliverable the party uses that fact to challenge the registration, arguing that because the voter could not be reached at the address, the registration is fraudulent.
Examples of voter suppression
2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal
In the 2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal
, Republican officials attempted to reduce the number of Democratic voters by paying professional telemarketers in Idaho to make repeated hang-up calls to block Democrats' ride-to-the-polls phone lines on election day.
United States Senate election in Virginia, 2006
During the United States Senate election in Virginia, 2006
, Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections Jean Jensen concluded that the incidents of voter suppression appeared widespread and deliberate. Documented incidents of voter suppression include:
- Democratic voters receiving calls incorrectly informing them voting will lead to arrest.
- Widespread calls fraudulently claiming to be "Webb Volunteers," falsely telling voters their voting location had changed.
- Fliers paid for by the Republican Party , stating "SKIP THIS ELECTION" caused was allegedly an attempt to suppress African-American turnout.
The FBI has since launched an investigation into the suppression attempts.
2004 presidential election
In the U.S. presidential election of 2004
, some voters got phone calls with false information intended to keep them from voting--saying that their voting place had been changed or that voting would take place on Wednesday as well as on Tuesday.
Other allegations surfaced in several states that the group called Voters Outreach of America had collected and submitted Republican voter registration forms while inappropriately disposing of Democratic registration forms..
Michigan Republican state legislator John Pappageorge, was quoted as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election..
In 2006, four employees of the John Kerry campaign were convicted of slashing the tires of 25 vans rented by the state Republican Party which were to be used for driving Republican monitors to the polls. At the campaign workers' sentencing, Judge Michael B. Brennan told the defendants, "Voter suppression has no place in our country. Your crime took away that right to vote for some citizens."