4 Voting Rights Issues Facing Communities of Color

People of color disproportionately face issues at the polls. Learn how some voting laws promote an unjust political process and voter disenfranchisement.

portrait of Sydney Clark
by Sydney Clark

Published April 22, 2022

Reviewed by Pamela “Safisha Nzingha” Hill, Ph.D.

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4 Voting Rights Issues Facing Communities of Color
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Even after gaining the right to vote, people of color continue to deal with voting injustice. Efforts to "prevent eligible voters from registering to vote or voting" — also known as voter suppression — have plagued communities of color for decades.

The 15th and 19th amendments conclusively gave every American citizen the right to vote. And the Voting Rights Act of 1965 further struck down many obstructions like poll taxes and literacy tests.

However, communities of color still face discrimination at the polls, leaving them the least likely racial demographics to vote.

Voter ID Laws

People in most states need some form of identification to vote. Several states have lists with very limited options for identification, which mainly include photo IDs.

Yet, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, 11% of Americans do not have government-issued photo IDs — leaving around 21 million people ineligible to vote. People of color, especially lower-income citizens, are less likely to have photo IDs.

For some, obtaining a photo ID can be the most challenging part of getting to the polls.

Though not all states charge for issuing photo identification, many do. The inherent cost of getting an ID isn't the only financial issue. There are other costs to consider in getting a photo ID: transportation to offices that issue the IDs, time required to take off work, and, possibly, securing childcare for the visit.

Additionally, states with photo ID laws apply them selectively. Many people in these states — like Georgia and Texas — feel that voter ID laws are enforced mainly as a voter suppression tactic in communities of color.

Voter Registration

Registering to vote can be a difficult and confusing process. Awareness of deadlines and access to voter registration forms dictate a person's ability to vote, usually with no exceptions.

Of Americans who are of voting age, a large number are not registered to vote. This is primarily due to voter registration being a decentralized process. It is largely the responsibility of individuals — rather than the nation or state — to register to vote. In other democracies, their national governments have the responsibility to register their citizens to vote.

In the U.S., voter registration practices are especially harsh on younger generations, less educated people, and people of color. These populations often know less about the voting process and, subsequently, are not able to vote for candidates who represent them.

Historically excluded communities are also mainly affected by voter registration processes like purging, which further sets back voter registration efforts.

Unfortunately, less than half of U.S. states institute a process that counters these issues: same-day or on-site voter registration, which can increase voter turnout and help ensure a more equitable voting system.

No Voting for People With Felonies

Incarcerated people cannot cast votes in most states except in Vermont and Maine as well as the District of Columbia.

At least 39 states allow people with felonies to head to the polls after completion of their sentence. However, each state has its own definition of what constitutes "completion."

Some states do not allow some people to regain their right to vote after they finish their sentences. Restricting the vote from these individuals removes their personhood and disenfranchises them as citizens — they're forced to live in a world they cannot vote to change, sometimes permanently.

Not allowing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to vote also removes them from the national voting pool. This phenomenon also negatively affects the distribution of electoral votes, districts, and voting power for those who are already the most disenfranchised (low-income people and people of color are incarcerated disproportionately and often unjustly).

And even when voting rights are restored, former inmates might not be aware that they can vote and that they are responsible for registering to vote. Such information is not always provided to them upon release from jail or prison. Only about 1 in 4 eligible formerly incarcerated people voted in the 2020 election, according to a Marshall Project analysis.

Gerrymandering

Finally, gerrymandering, or the act of redrawing voting district lines to favor one group, is commonly used to further disenfranchise people of color.

The legal status of gerrymandering is problematic. Racial gerrymandering, or the "manipulat[ion] of legislative district lines to underrepresent racial minorities," is illegal.

Yet, partisan or political gerrymandering — or manipulating legislative district lines to benefit political party representation — is not. This distinction leaves a gray area that can make it tricky to provide explicit evidence against gerrymandering being used in a racial context.

Though it is possible to use gerrymandering to fix the imbalance of voter representation in districts, this action is rare.

Moreover, altering districts can also change the location of polling locations, causing issues for those who do not have transportation or similar circumstances to vote without inconvenience or circumstantial strain.

Conclusion

Though voting rights issues still plague communities of color, steps can be taken to combat them.

Community engagement is an essential step that students can take to help fight voter suppression.

The opportunities for college students to register to vote are vast since voter registration drives are often held on campuses across the nation. Organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the NAACP typically conduct voter education sessions in communities of color.

College students can help with voter registration drives, educate their peers about the voting process, and work to fight voter suppression.

Consistency and transparency are the most considerable assets in the fight for voter equity. With continued effort and dedicated initiatives, justice at the polls can be a reality for communities of color.