John Lewis fought for equal voting rights for all Americans his entire life. The early civil rights leader and Congressman from Georgia once said, “your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” 8 years later, Lewis’ words still deeply resonate. Voter suppression is a major issue in the United States and, even in 2020, widely affects racial minorities more than any other group.
Many are looking to Lewis’ home state of Georgia this election, with both the Presidency and Senate hinging upon it. Georgia, though, has received criticism just recently for noted attempts to suppress voters in their way to exercise their democratic freedom.
In 2018, a race for Governor divided Georgia, with one candidate, Brian Kemp, being the person in charge of overseeing the election. In his position, Mr. Kemp, between 2012 and 2018, purged 1.5 million registered Georgians of their franchise, with 107,000 purged simply because they hadn’t recently voted. There is no other right guaranteed under the Constitution that expires if unused. Furthermore, these changes were shown to disproportionately affect Black people, who were purged 25% more than white people. Kemp went on to defeat his Black opponent, Stacey Abrams, by just 1%.
Georgia is not the only state with notable voter suppression targeting minorities. In Kentucky, this year’s Democratic primary election for United States Senate saw Amy McGrath as the establishment favorite for the nomination. However, Representative Charles Booker emerged as a vocal opponent against her. By Election Day, polling places were closed until there was only one open in all of Louisville. Louisville, the hometown of Booker, with a population of over 700,000 (over 20% Black, like Booker), was reduced to a single precinct, and chaos ensued. Predictably, McGrath defeated Booker by under 3%.
Suppression of the vote has long been a tactic to help those in power retain it. Susan B. Anthony once said, “It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens;… but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them.” Anthony could not have been more right.
County Commissions, State Legislatures, and Congress all have the ability to reaffirm the right to vote, but they have shown they will not do it alone. We need to push them along. The sad reality is that people of color are systemically and maliciously kept from participating in the decision-making process in the United States. The people who can speak must speak for those who cannot because, in any functioning democracy, let alone one as large as the United States, every voice matters, and those voices must be heard.
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