Dr. Carol Anderson spoke to University of Connecticut students on Thursday about the effects and methods of voter suppression in the first event of a virtual speaker series hosted by the UConn Leadership Legacy Experience.
Anderson is an African American studies professor at Emory University and an expert in African American history and 20th century politics. Anderson began the discussion by defining voter suppression as “the systematic denial of the right to vote to American https://leadershiplegacy.uconn.edu/citizens.” She said the idea of voter suppression usually makes people think of the violence during the Jim Crow era in the southern United States.
“the systematic denial of the right to vote to American citizens.”
Anderson described voter suppression as more than just an issue in southern states and cited Milwaukee, Wis. as an example.
“The Wisconsin legislature looked at Milwaukee, where 70% of the state’s African American population lives and targeted that city and that population with doggone near surgical precision, which is the language of the Fourth Circuit in talking about North Carolina,” said Anderson.
According to Anderson, voter identification laws passed by the Wisconsin legislators blocked 26-27% of African American voters in the state from voting, resulting in approximately 60,000 fewer votes being cast in the 2016 election than the 2012 election. 68% of these votes were from Milwaukee alone, she said.
Anderson also spoke about the decrease in early voting. In Gilford County, N.C., the number of early voting spots was reduced from 22 to only four. There are 750,000 people living in Gilford County.
Felon disenfranchisement is another method of voter suppression still used today, according to Anderson. In 1868, Florida passed a law stating that felons cannot vote. The state then passed a series of laws that only applied to or were enforced against African-Americans, according to Anderson. She said in 2018, 40% of African American men and over 20% of African American adults from Florida were unable to vote due to this law, which permanently stripped them of their right to vote. Although this law was altered to grant the majority of felons their right to vote again, Florida’s governor said that felons’ sentences will not be considered served and they cannot vote until they pay various fees, fines and restitutions. The Eleventh Circuit Court ruled in favor of its constitutionality and the state does not have to specify how much the individual owes, according to Anderson. This is still in effect today.
“In what ways are the partisan conflicts on mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic related to the broader issue of voter suppression?” Lily DeBlasio, a seventh-semester political science major and an undergraduate Leadership Legacy student, asked.
Anderson replied that both sides have been guilty of voter suppression by way of gerrymandering, which is a political tactic in which boundaries are manipulated to favor one party.
However, the majority of voter suppression in recent years has been driven by the Republican party, Anderson explained. The recent surge of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Republicans to fear the election results, which resulted in President Donald Trump’s claims of rampant voter fraud, according to Anderson.
“By delegitimizing mail-in ballots, you delegitimize the results of this election,” Anderson said. She explained that the claims of voter fraud and the dismantling of 670 mail-sorting machines in key cities by the postmaster general is “an attack on our election system and on our democracy.”