Fifty-two years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. It was a defining moment for the Civil Rights Movement and for all of us who had marched in Selma for the voting rights we had been systematically and often violently denied.
A half-century later, the VRA remains a shining testament to the power of nonviolent resistance and to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. But its promise is at risk. Since then, blatant forms of voter suppression such as poll taxes and literacy tests have given way to more subtle tactics, such as restrictive voter ID laws, show-me-your-papers registration requirements, sudden polling place closures, and voter roll purges.
This maze of bureaucratic red tape falls hardest on low-income families and people of color, like our client Stacey Hopkins. When Stacey moved from College Park to Atlanta, local election officials should have simply updated her information from the change-of-address form she had sent to the post office. Instead, they sent her a threatening notice that she would be flagged for removal from the voter registration rolls unless she took immediate action. We later learned that these intimidating mailings had gone out to hundreds of thousands of voters around the state.
The methods of voter suppression may have changed since Jim Crow, but the outcome is the same: More voters from vulnerable communities stay home on Election Day, giving an advantage to one side.
The Fulton County Board of Elections recently voted to close several polling places in overwhelmingly Black neighborhoods, with almost no public notice or input. Georgia is also one of the few states that removes voters from the rolls based on the absurd assumption that every voter who hasn’t voted in a three-year period must have moved. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of voters have been purged from the registration rolls because of minor discrepancies or typos in a state database. It’s voter suppression by a thousand paper cuts.
President Trump’s so-called “Election Integrity” commission, led by serial vote suppressor Kris Kobach, is poised to make this problem worse by laying the groundwork for similar voting restrictions nationwide.
We must fight back.
We all agree that American elections need to be secure, fair, and transparent. But any restrictions that put more obstacles in the way of eligible voters to vote has the potential to damage our democracy.
We can’t let Trump and his allies block the ballot. That’s why we’re taking the Fulton County Board of Elections to court, and putting other local election authorities on notice to stop playing politics with people’s voting rights.
We should be encouraging more people to participate in our democracy, not fewer. That’s why the ACLU of Georgia is mobilizing our members and supporters — now 20,000 strong — to expand voting rights with commonsense reforms that make it easier to vote, such as same-day voter registration.
Most importantly, if you received one of these “purge notices,” let us know by filling out a complaint form on our website www.acluga.org. Make sure to send the notice back to your local election authority to maintain your registration. Then, on Election Day, find your polling place and get to the polls.
Elections cannot be fair if eligible voters can’t vote. That is why we will continue to fight to protect and expand voting rights in the courts, in the capitol and in our communities. Our democracy depends on it.