When many think of 21st century voter suppression, the first thing that might come to mind is the network of unnecessary voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the young, the elderly and voters of color. There is, however, a minefield of other voter suppression tactics at work, many of which are on display in the great state of Georgia.
The peach state could turn blue. Shifting demographics, increased voter registration and turnout among Georgians of color are making it more of a possibility with every election cycle. And this year Georgia’s black voters are a critical component of the state’s Senate and gubernatorial races.
A report released Wednesday by the Joint Center concluded, for example, that if black voters follow the trend of recent years, the 2014 black vote share will be about 11 percent of the overall electorate in Georgia—enough to straighten the backs of Democrats, for whom black Georgians overwhelmingly vote, and mobilize challenges to Republicans. Consequently, the parties in the state have battled every step of the way to increase their share of voters at the polls with voters of color at the center of their efforts. On a practical level, what this means for the average Georgia voter of color is that they’ve been bombarded by an onslaught of policy changes, challenges and roadblocks.
First, there’s registration.
The New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan grassroots organization registered nearly 86,000 new voters this year, focusing on people of color and younger Georgia residents. When the group checked the status of their new registrants late this summer, however, they discovered 40,000 were missing with the Republican Secretary of State offering no explanation for their disappearance. Today, five days away from the election, the status of those 40,000 registrants is still in limbo. Maybe they’ll be able to vote. Without registration cards telling them which precinct they’re assigned to, they might not.
Then there’s the purging.
A bombshell six-month-long investigation was published Wednesday by Al Jazeera, pulling the covers off a program in 27 states—mostly Republican-controlled—that could purge the registration of millions of voters, especially voters of color.
In short, the Interstate Crosscheck program works by “matching names from roughly 110 million voter records from participating states,” the story says. Al Jazeera’s investigation found, though, that the program is incredibly inaccurate, mismatching middle names, birthdates, suffixes and Social Security numbers of registrants. And Crosscheck is biased. It lists one in seven blacks, one in eight Asian Americans and one in eight Hispanic voters as under suspicion of having voted twice. That’s compared to one in 11 whites. According to an expert interviewed for the story, the program has inherent bias for over-selecting and purging voters of color because its methodology doesn’t account for the fact that an estimated 50 percent of people of color share common last names, versus 30 percent of whites.
Georgia is one of the states participating in the Crosscheck program.
Going into Election Day, many in Georgia are concerned that voter intimidation efforts will be the last hurdle for voters of color at the polls. Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda says her organization is already receiving reports of intimidation at early voting locations. To get ahead of this, Georgia Democrats and civil rights organizations are mobilizing election protection teams to monitor events on Election Day—to ensure that everyone who actually had their registration processed and who hasn’t been quietly purged from the polls can vote.
Perhaps the best summary of the sad state of affairs comes from Martin Luther III, who Al Jazeera interviewed about the new challenges voters face.
“I think [of] my dad, my grandfather, my mother and so many others who fought and gave their lives … so we might have the right to vote,” King said. “We purport to be the greatest in the world. But yet, in 2014, we are tying people’s hands and keep—trying to keep them from voting? We should be making it easier.”