How To Suppress The Vote

I recently moderated an online discussion about vote suppression; it followed the showing of “Suppressed and Sabotaged: The Fight to Vote,” a documentary that was eye-opening. It turns out there are lots of ways to suppress votes that most of us don’t think about. The documentary illustrated a number of ways in which vote suppression has become more sophisticated—and less visible—since Reconstruction.

There are two main methods of discouraging the vote. The first is primarily aimed at minorities and poor people, who tend to vote Democratic, and focuses on making it as inconvenient as possible for the targeted people to cast ballots. The second is gerrymandering, which—among other pernicious things—suppresses the votes cast for whichever party is in the minority in a particular district, by convincing people in that party that their votes won’t count, so why bother.

And recently, just in case those methods don’t work, Trump partisans have come up with another tactic, triggered by belief in the “Big Lie.”

The film focused primarily on the first method, just making it more difficult to vote. Some of those tactics included shortening the window for requesting absentee ballots, making it harder to remain on the voter rolls, not sending mail ballots unless people specifically requested them, limiting drop boxes and early voting, closing polling places in minority neighborhoods…and ensuring that the ones that do remain open will have interminable wait times by sending them an insufficient supply of voting machines. (The film showed the enormous disparity in the number of voting machines available at polling places in minority neighborhoods versus white suburban ones.)

There are also a wide number of bureaucratic moves and “inadvertent errors” that can make it more onerous to cast a ballot if you are in a targeted community.

The second method of vote suppression is gerrymandering, which is more destructive of democratic representation than even most of its critics seem to recognize.

Gerrymandering, as you undoubtedly know, is the process of creating as many districts as possible favoring the party that controls the state legislature during redistricting. In some states, that’s the Democrats; in Indiana, it’s Republicans, and they’ve done a very good job of it; Indiana has been identified as one of the five most gerrymandered states. Indiana doesn’t have “one person one vote” because our districts have been drawn so that the rural areas where  most Republican voters live are vastly overrepresented.

As a result, in a depressingly large number of statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor is unopposed even by a token candidate. If you don’t have a candidate to vote for, why go to the polls? Indiana isn’t unique; In 2021, the Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a competitive Congressional District.

If all that wasn’t enough, in several states, Republicans pushing the Big Lie have embarked on yet another method of ensuring the victory of their candidates—placing partisans in the offices responsible for counting the votes. The GOP argues that vote fraud is widespread, despite reliable data showing that it is in fact extremely rare– and that the few scattered incidents that do exist don’t change results. (We also know that, despite hysterical accusations, non-citizens aren’t descending on polling places and casting votes for “the other side.”)

The real danger isn’t coming from people casting improper votes. The threat is that the people controlling the voting rolls and counting those votes will be dishonest, which is why a recent report from the Brennan Center is so concerning. This year, races for Secretary of State—the offices charged with administering the vote– are attract­ing far more atten­tion than in recent memory. And in state after state, including Indiana, those campaigns are focusing on elec­tion denial—Trump’s “Big Lie” as a cent­ral issue.

Money is flow­ing into these races at a rate not seen in recent memory–more than two and a half times the amount raised by the analog­ous point in 2018, and more than five times that of 2014. Brennan reports that elec­tion deniers in Arizona, Geor­gia, and Nevada are currently either in the lead or running a close second in fundrais­ing. National groups and donors are spend­ing on these races, includ­ing Donald Trump’s lead­er­ship PAC and others with ties to efforts to chal­lenge the 2020 result. Donors who haven’t previously given to secret­ary of state candid­ates are suddenly making major contri­bu­tions.

All of this activity is inconsistent with the notion that “We the People” elect our representatives. Instead, partisans—who are mostly but not exclusively Republicans these days— decide which people deserve to have their registrations honored and their votes accurately counted.

Something to think about in the run-up to the midterms…..


  1. They really don’t have anything better to do I suppose. The oligarchs are so worried about losing control of their power because it means thousands of dollars get diverted from themselves. They spend so much money ensuring the game is rigged on their behalf, that it’s become boring to even watch.

    We’d be better off randomly drawing names from a district to serve all the remaining people. Use licensed drivers from the BMV and toss it into a lottery draw style system. Read off the position and do a blind draw. They have 48 hours to give a legal reason for not wanting to serve. Kind of like jury duty.

  2. Well Todd; your comments today fit into W.C. Fields quote, “If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, dazzle them with bullshit.” That 2nd paragraph is especially fitting.

    The last time I went to the polls to vote in 2016 was the last time I will ever go to the polls to vote unless I am denied an Absentee Ballot. My polling place had been changed from a large outbuilding on a neighborhood church property with a large parking lot where three precincts voted, moved to a large health facility which used a small room and either four or five precincts were crowded together made voting difficult. The small parking lot was full as was both sides of the drive around the large building; I had to park in the grass behind the building, walk around it and almost one block north on Arlington to get in line. Once inside we were crammed together in the small vestibule of the health center; once in the registration room it was difficult to see the precinct signs hanging on the front of tables due to the number of people standing in front of them. Once I got registered, filled out my ballot and headed to the ballot machine a rather large woman grabbed me by my upper right arm, the one I carry my cane with which rendered it useless as she drug me through the crowds to one machine which kicked out my ballot twice. The woman yelled something at me when I reentered it the second time before she could stop me; she then grabbed my upper arm, yelled at the man inline behind me and drug me across the room to the second ballot machine which accepted it. Did my vote count; who knows…but how do we ever know if our ballots are counted in these troubling times?

    In 2016, one thing I did notice was the vast majority of voters were white; I live in a racially mixed area, were the black voters notified of the change of polling place. My daughter and our friend in Irvington were not notified of the change in their polling place. Being determined to vote, they drove around till they found their polling place then stood for a few hours in the long lines; they were not together but talked afterwards about their problem. The husband of our friend had died of Covid 5 days before election day; she was determined to vote against Trump to represent both of them.

    So far; Republicans have not figured out a way to stop our right to vote but I’m sure they are working on it. Maintaining and expanding the Electoral College or alternate member groups if they don’t like the outcome of the first vote. As the January 6th Investigation Committee continues to expand making public what they are uncovering about Trump & Co. involvement in the insurrection; will the next mass shootings be at polling places and will they be as well organized as the insurrection?

  3. When it comes to gerrymandering and concern about the “vote counters,” I think you’re on the money. When it comes to “voter suppression,” not so much. When you look at the data, there just isn’t evidence that most of these changes in voting results in fewer people voting. There are valid reasons to shorten early voting…the main one being that votes counted after Election Day undermine confidence in the election. There just isn’t any evidence though that, for example., shortening an early voting window from 4 weeks to 3 weeks means people don’t vote. It could well be that the same number (or more) vote early but in a shorter period of time. That’s what just happened in Georgia.

    Looking at the number of people voting v. registered voters is a poor way of calculating turnout. The reason why is that the denominator, i.e. the number of people registered to vote can vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on whether the voter rolls are purged of people who are no longer voting because they have moved or died. A few years back, Marion County had 105% registration (more voters registered than adults living in the county) because the voter rolls had not been cleaned up for years.

    Instead, the way you measure turnout is the number of people voting measured against the adult population in that jurisdiction. When you do that, you find that most of these voting changes, even things like photo ID, haven’t really suppressed the vote.

    The Democrats need to stop crying “voter suppression” with every change in voting procedures because people are going to tune them out when real voter suppression bills are introduced. A good example is the GA law that passed. There were some very bad things in the law on the vote counting side of the ledger, but the actual changes to voting procedures were minor and some actually very positive such as reducing lines in urban areas by adding equipment when there are long lines. Yet, Democrats went ballistic about the law (focusing a lot on measures in the original bill that didn’t actually pass.) Joe Biden even said it was Jim Crow 2.0. Ridiculous. What happened this year at the polls? Georgia had record voter participation in the midterm primaries under the new law. Meanwhile, real voter suppression proposals in Texas didn’t get sufficient coverage because Democrats were hyperventilating about innocuous changes to GA voting procedures.

    My first election was in 1980. To vote, I had to be registered by a duly appointed registrar (or go to the Courthouse) and I had to vote on Election Day 6 am. to 6 pm. in my home precinct, and no place else. Now 42 years later, I can print out a form online to get registered and mail it in. I can votes weeks before election day at my convenience. On Election Day, I can to any voting center in my county and vote in addition to my home precinct. Today, it’s easier to get registered and vote that it has ever been.

  4. It just seems obvious to me that doing ANYTHING that either suppresses the vote outright or fiddles district creation is blatantly un-Constitutional. If I understand it correctly, anyone born here has the right to become a U.S. citizen. That said, why don’t we add each newborn to the voter registration poll database and when they turn 18, send them the registration forms. Or, better yet, when they apply for a Social Security card and/or driver’s license, they are registered to vote at the same time – automatically. District lines formulas should also be standardized on statistical bases for population in general. Gerrymandering is being used as a political weapon by both parties, and it is depressing to watch these corrupt jackasses try to grasp for power this way.

    As has been mentioned many times by many writers on this blog, election day should be a national holiday. Yes, the oligarchs will scream and stamp their Gucci loafer clad feet, but that’s just too bad. Citizens United v. FEC should be overturned even before the reversals of recent decisions is done. All elections should be PUBLICLY FUNDED and election seasons shortened to six months, or so.

    Okay. That’s my little bit. Now we all need to do whatever we can to get people registered and helped to the voting booth in EVERY election at EVERY level. We will lose our democracy entirely to the oligarchs and the right-wing evangelicals if we don’t overcome voter suppression.

  5. Kudos Paul – once again – the only voice of reason and balance to be read on this blog…..

  6. Vernon, just a minor correction. Anyone born here IS a citizen. They might one day renounce it, but they don’t need to “become” a citizen. (That’s enough from Sister Mary Nit-picker).

    There is another scarcity issue that few people think about. This was done in Alabama. When the legislature passed a voter ID law, the governing bodies closed DMV offices in several small, majority black counties. For those without reliable transportation, that made it nearly impossible to obtain the required ID.

    People need to understand that the Republicans have told us what they want to do. Rick Scott actually thought it would be a good thing to show off the “program” which freaked Mitch out. The last thing Mitch wants is honesty.

  7. Paul K. Ogden; below I copied and pasted the information from IN.GOV Voting FAQ:
    “When and where do I vote?
    Unless you cast an absentee ballot, you must vote at your precinct polling place.”

    “The Democrats need to stop crying “voter suppression” with every change in voting procedures because people are going to tune them out when real voter suppression bills are introduced.” Why must Republicans, as well as Democrats, be forced to seek if or what changes there are in voting procedures to see if they are effected and seek their voting place prior to every election to repeatedly changing from place to place?

    My first election was in 1958, it was easier to register and vote because we didn’t have to search for information and changes in process of registration and voting. There was no listing on line anywhere to request an Absentee Ballot to vote in the Indiana 2022 Primary; my contact with a candidate, Kristin Jones, sent one of her campaign workers with the application to fill out for her to file for ma and brought yard signs for Kristin and Andre Carson to replace Carson’s sign which had disappeared from my yard prior to his last election. I support photo ID to vote; too bad it isn’t required for using credit and debit cards and writing checks, it would prevent countless cases of fraud and identity theft. For those who do not need a drivers license, a state ID card with photo could be easily obtained at BMV offices.

  8. Vernon, I think your comment about “anyone born here has the right to be a US citizen” is not quite right. I believe that it is true that anyone born here IS a Us Citizen.

  9. Thanks for the correction, folks. I wrote it at 6:00 this morning (MDT) before my second cup of coffee.

    I want to thank Gail for pointing out that all but she and Paul are rational beings. Gosh, what a burden it must be for her to carry so much self-righteousness. Typical, though, for a right-wing ideologue. Gail, as usual, you have NO idea about whom you speak nor how you justify judging others.

  10. I first became aware of this in 2004. I had never before been involved in politics other than voting. I became very concerned about the outcome of the election. I started reading about how Ohio, and specifically, Columbus would be “ground zero”. I had an aunt who lived there so I contacted the DEM party in Columbus to see if they needed workers. They did. So I flew from California and checked in at DEM headquarters the weekend before Election Day.

    I heard many things, unconfirmed. Posters put up in Black barber shops/beauty salons saying the date of the election had been changed or giving incorrect information on where/how/when to vote. I saw GOP canvassing young troopers emerge from smart small buses all wearing suits.

    On Election Day, what I saw made an indelible impression on me and changed my political concern/involvement forever. It was cold and rainy. We learned that election machines were doled out so that suburban districts had many more than they needed. The inner city ones had far fewer. The lines were terribly long there. Many of these voters could not take off much time from work and gave up. The ones who stayed had their families with them as they had no one to care for the kids. We delivered many bags of KFC to them as if they stayed in line until the polls closed, they could still vote.

    Columbus and Ohio were the difference and Bush won. Nuff said.

    That was amateur work compared to what is being done now.

  11. Okay, Joanne, we can whittle the names down to the five people willing to do the job of the town council and then randomly draw their names.

    Maybe there are a thousand people who want to be governor. Put their names in a barrel and choose one for governor and one for their right-hand person.

    How about a lottery system for president or government positions? Only federal taxpayers are qualified.

    Could they be any worse than our clowns over the last 40 years coming from our political parties?

  12. I will have to say that require it voters to vote in their precinct presents certain problems. When I was working in IT, I was generally lucky enough to have some flexibility in my schedule that I could stop by the precinct polling place before I went to work. If I didn’t I had to make a 20 minute drive at lunch time from work to the polling place, or hope that I did not have to work late to get to the polling the place before it closed at six.

    In this day and age of computers and instant communication, there is no reason to allow kiosk voting from any polling place in the county and maybe Indianapolis already has this, but I don’t know because for the last decade or so (ever since I encountered a 30 minute line at my precinct polling place) I have done early voting, typically on a weekend or two before election day.

    I will have to agree that Gerrymandering is an insidious problem in Indiana. The Republicans love it and have no incentive to change. There is no way for a peoples ballot initiative to push for anti-gerrmandering laws, so we are stuck. I live in a packed district. I am surrounded by sliced districts and the pattern is repeated for every urban area in the state.

  13. Yes, if one is born here, one is automatically a citizen…let it go.
    “Honesty” and Mitch McConnell do not belong in the same sentence! And Rick Scott became a politician after he
    ducked out of the administration of the Hospital Corporation of America the night before indictments were to be
    handed down…just about what Trump just did.
    The issue is that the GOPiggies can not survive if there is a really free election, and they know that.
    As Sheila noted (yesterday?) truth about our history is anathema to jingoism. I suggest that truth about
    today, would be the same. We have become a democracy in name only, and we need to pass Biden’s
    voting rights bill, outlawing gerrymandering, and more. One can’t give water to people who have been
    standing in a voting line for hours?! “America the great?

  14. Democracy by design is an obstacle to most other “-ocracies”. That resistance requires the electorate to be free to express their opinions frequently and reliably and competently informed in the required human knowledge, in ways that everyone’s vote has the same influence.

    One “-ocracy” has the power to mitigate that power of democracy to achieve equality under the law: aristocracy. While aristocracy is “rule by the best,” oligarchy is “rule by the few and in a society ruled by entertainment media paid for by sponsors, the wealthy have a path to maintain the position of being those few to lead. They can’t outvote we the people, but they can afford to align enough of we the people to give themselves power. They recruit enough others who are unhappy with only the same power over government as all of we the people and convince them to support the only thing the wealthy really want and that is unrestricted wealth redistribution up.

    Christians are aggrieved because not everyone accepts being subjects of their God. Whites are aggrieved by the fact that other skins are equal to theirs and becoming the majority of humans in the world. Males are aggrieved at even the notion that the other gender is equal. In fact some are so aggrieved that they believe that they have to become a militia to defend their assumed natural superiority through revolution.

    Can money trump our Constitution? In the age of pervasive persuasive entertainment paid for by advertising, yes, it can. And it is.

  15. Regarding Paul’s comments…

    “Now 42 years later, I can print out a form online to get registered and mail it in.”

    I’m glad he has that privilege because I’ve had a number of students who had poor or no internet access, so their families would have had difficulty printing out that form. There are areas of Indianapolis that have no high speed internet, and we all know how costly internet service is.

    ” When you look at the data, there just isn’t evidence that most of these changes in voting results in fewer people voting. ”

    This article is from 2018, but illustrates the point Sheila is making. I pasted in the pertinent passages.

    “The start of early voting this week is a stark example that casting ballots is much more convenient in the Republican stronghold of Hamilton County than in Democratic-leaning Marion County. …”

    “…In Hamilton, voters can cast ballots at three satellite sites and the county courthouse in Noblesville. In Marion, which is about three times as populous, there are no satellite voting centers and the only place to cast early is the City-County Building downtown…” *

    “…The discrepancy has meant increased absentee balloting in Hamilton — and other Republican-dominant suburban counties — and decreased absentee voting in Marion. …”

    “…Hamilton County Elections Clerk Kathy Richardson said the vote centers are a huge help to voters and boosts turnout. …”

    “…The discrepancy is due to a state law that requires unanimous consent by the three-member county election boards to add satellite locations. Though all boards have appointed Democrats and Republicans, the lone Republican on Marion County’s board has voted repeatedly against satellites, while in the Republican strongholds of Hamilton, Boone, Hendricks and Johnson counties, Republicans and Democrats on the elections boards voted for the centers. …”

    “…It’s not just Hamilton County that has added voting centers; Boone County has eight early voting locations, Hendricks County has four and Johnson County, five. …”**

    “…Every national, state and local office in Hamilton County is held by Republicans, including all city council seats and mayor’s offices in its four largest cities, Fishers, Carmel, Noblesville and Westfield the county commission and county council.”

    * Hamilton county also had 12 days of early voting versus 4 in Marion county at the time of this article.
    ** Marion county has just under one million residents, Hamilton county just under 380,000. and the other counties listed under 200,000.

  16. Gerrymandering has made elections in rural parts of Indiana non-competitive to drive people away from voting. In Southwest Indiana (8th Congressional District), the cities that can produce the votes are isolated or divided up amongst districts to keep the worthless legislature in office and to help our most ineffective Congressman, Larry Buschon get re-elected. Fortunately voters are starting to catch on and are tiring of our inept and ineffective elected representatives. If GOP candidates want to win they will have to have some substance to their message in this cycle, but I am not holding my breath. They will be full of BS about election security, Trump and saving babies. The voters here can smell the BS and they are sick of it.

  17. In 2016 at least one person of color was the victim of voter suppression in Marion County. She went to her polling place with her ID, and was told by the white poll worker that her registration was “not here in my book.” She went home on public transit to get her voting card. She showed it to the worker who again said “not here.” She reached over the table to POINT AT HER NAME in the book! How many others could not manage all of that and gave up?

  18. Discovered this yesterday: Got concerned over the many reports of how the military and vets have material numbers of MAGA folks. Wrote to the project and asked. Their response – we don’t do that kind of screening. Think that Steve Bannon, etc. that are organizing MAGA participation in poll workers/overseers haven’t taken note? Concerns me…

  19. Paul – I am sorry, but you seem to have a huge blind spot when it comes to voter suppression.

    We just had an election with huge turnouts on both sides. By all measures, it was free and fair. “My guy” lost, so my political friends in the State Legislature pass dozens of laws to change the rules. Effective or not, do you really believe that my political friends’ motivation is other than trying to rig future elections?

    So, Reginald Smyth, III stands in line to vote in his suburban voting center with four machines per 100 voters; Yolanda Johnson stands in line in her inner city voting center with one machine per 5,000 voters. Obviously, that’s fair. It doesn’t inconvenience Reginald.

    One of my favorite movie quotes – “Just because it’s fixed doesn’t mean you can’t break it.”
    Question – so the Democrats broke the “fix”, but why should they have to do that?

    Of course some people believe that it really is unimportant for everyone to vote. If they aren’t prepared to climb obstacles, they shouldn’t vote — of course not all obstacles are equal, but why let trifles bother us.

    On one thing, we’d probably agree. Districts should be drawn without regard to politics and I would include forced “majority-minority” districts. Yes, there is something to be said for having my representative “look like me” (none will every look like me, though), but is having Clarence Thomas represent “Black Men” really what you want? Or Marjorie Taylor Greene representing women?

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