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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

Hi, I’m a Politics major. Let me help you better understand the issue with voter suppression strategies.

The recent American election has brought awareness of voter fraud to the public, but what if I told you voter suppression happens in every election legally. As a Politics student, this is something that I have been studying for a few years and it still makes me as angry as the first time I heard of it. 

Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash
First off, what is voter suppression and voter fraud? Voter Suppression is a form of electoral manipulation which is founded in discouraging and preventing certain groups from voting, and in the case that such groups are able to cast ballots, voter suppression stands to make their votes count as little as possible. Voter fraud, however, involves external electoral interference to the extent that one candidate is favoured over another, usually supported in order to achieve a means to an end to further a specific party agenda, and in cases of foreign interference to destabilize democracy. Voter suppression has been targeting black and minority communities in the US since the abolition of slavery (1865) and there seems to be no end to it in the future as it allows certain “successful” parties to win specific areas every election.

Let me introduce you to gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral boundaries which creates an unfair political advantage for a specific party. The successful party is only successful in this area because they have unfairly divided the electoral boundaries, usually to limit the impact of votes and successfully produce a win for the intended party in all cases. Boundaries are drawn by winners and these winners “pack” and “crack” districts to gain votes. 

In a perfect distribution, let’s say there are 50 individuals total, with a lean of 60% blue votes and 40% red votes. When electoral boundaries are drawn in a perfect grid there is an equal possibility for parties to win. With three blue and two red districts blue wins in this case. After this election blue is allowed to redraw electoral boundaries and they do this in order to achieve a win and essentially rig their success, by dividing the share of votes differently into different compact districts they rig the vote so in all districts blue wins, as the share of votes for red will always be uneven. Say red wins and redraws electoral boundaries in a totally random way in order to pack the most majority red districts and win the most districts possible for red. In this case, swaying the share of votes so the districts turn red. 

This exhibits excellent examples of both packing electoral districts to favour a specific party and cracking another district apart for the sake of a specific party win. Electoral districts have become more oddly shaped and severed over time and because of this, there are specific instances of rigging the election. The decision of legislators to essentially rig electoral boundaries in order to win highlights the explicit corruption in democratic nations. Partisan policies should not determine the vote. 

Photo by Jorge Alcala on Unsplash
Just because we are Canadian, does not mean we can omit our own democracy from attempts at voter suppression. In the 2011 Canadian federal election, seven ridings in the Guelph region received bogus phone calls informing individuals to go to different polling stations so that individuals would not get to vote on election day. This plan was designed to dissuade liberal voters in the ridings. After an elaborate investigation, the staffer responsible was jailed. 

South of the border, voter suppression utilizes racial discrimination to dissuade voters. Historically, literacy tests were imposed upon American voters in order to dissuade black voters who were traditionally denied an education at the time. Without passing the test, one would not be allowed to vote. The low rate of literacy was one of many ways that white supremacists racially gerrymandered and restricted the black vote. Voter ID laws carry on this tradition by requiring voters to bring specific items of photo ID, individuals who cannot provide photo ID must undergo many extra steps which leads to the disenfranchisement of this voting population. Elderly individuals are often also targeted by this.

Felons are disenfranchised as prisoners lose the right to vote, even after a sentence has been discharged after the sentence has been served, some states maintain this for life. The populations most overrepresented in the prison system being people of colour, yet another way the United States discriminates against the Black vote. 

mail in ballot envelope with pen
Photo by Tiffany Tertipes from Unsplash
Voter suppression is not a new phenomenon, it is more common than one realizes and it leads to the disenfranchisement of voters and a general backsliding of confidence in democracy.   

If you are interested in learning more about this subject and democracy in general I encourage you to take POLS 110. Much of the content here is based on what I learned in that course.

Sara Gray

Queen's U '22

Hi, my name is Sara Gray. My pronouns are she/they. I was born and raised in Belleville, Ontario. My ideal day involves sleeping in, reading with a cup of tea in hand and a cat by my side, painting, swimming at Sandbanks provincial park, and having a bonfire to end the night. I attend Queen’s University, working on my Honours Arts Degree in Political Science and Art History. I’m working towards heading to law school. If you want to share your story, shoot me a message @sara.grayyy on Instagram. Cheers! x
HC Queen's U contributor