Voter suppression and nonvoting is a social norm in the United States

Polling place; Atlanta, Georgia, US

Read this — it’s important!

The United States prides itself on being a model for democracy. And, yet, widespread (and increasing) voter suppression and high rates of nonvoting have occurred for so long in the US that they have become accepted and a social norm.

As a representative democracy, the US compares unfavorably with many places in the world. If you are a minority or poor, long voting lines and rules and laws to make it harder for you to vote are much more likely than in predominantly white precincts. Ease of voting in the US is divided along lines of race and income.

“For many American voters, casting a ballot is a task that requires careful planning, physical endurance, and an investment of at least time and often also money in the form of lost wages.”

“In a political culture where acceptance of low voter turnout is that ingrained, voting gets treated like something that’s not really that desirable anyway.”

“In a country that prides itself on being a beacon of democracy and exceptionalism, approximately 40 percent of the electorate had never even encountered the suggestion that they ought to cast a ballot. It’s easy to see how small a step it is from accepting that only the most motivated and civic-minded citizens to vote to imagining that voter suppression isn’t really that big a deal.”

“In Scandinavian countries, where turnout is around 80 percent, voter registration is automatic, and the government contacts voters to notify them of their polling places and remind them to vote. The United States could have automatic registration … too.”

The long voting lines are a choice.

Featured articles:

*Pettigrew, S. (2017). The racial gap in wait times: Why minority precincts are underserved by local election officials. Political Science Quarterly, 132(3), 527-547. [PDF] [Cited by]

A voter in a predominantly minority precinct experiences a line that is twice as long, on average, than a voter in a predominantly white precinct. Additionally, minorities are three times as likely to wait longer than 30 minutes and six times as likely to wait more than 60 minutes.”

*Chen, M. K., Haggag, K., Pope, D. G., & Rohla, R. (2019). Racial disparities in voting wait times: Evidence from smartphone data. Ithaca: Cornell University Library, arXiv.org/NBER Working Paper No. 2648. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Equal access to voting is a core feature of democratic government. Using data from millions of smartphone users, we quantify a racial disparity in voting wait times across a nationwide sample of polling places during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Relative to entirely-white neighborhoods, residents of entirely-black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote and were 74% more likely to spend more than 30 minutes at their polling place. This disparity holds when comparing predominantly white and black polling places within the same states and counties, and survives numerous robustness and placebo tests. We shed light on the mechanism for these results and discuss how geospatial data can be an effective tool to both measure and monitor these disparities going forward.”

*Taub, A. (2020, October 15). The Interpreter: How the Democracy Sausage Gets Made — or Doesn’t. New York Times.

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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