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US Elections: Voter suppression

Activist and journalist Aura Bogado on the nasty tactics to stop youths voting in tomorrow's election

As the world watched Obama cast his vote, in his hometown of Chicago, journalists such as Aura Bogado have highlighted the fact that many Americans may not enjoy the same privilege. In her interview with Dazed & Confused, she casts a critical eye over recent Republican campaigns and the fear that tactics being used have culminated in voter suppression.  In 2008, according to government statistics, an extra 5 million Americans turned out to the polls to vote. Making up these numbers were approximately two million more black and two million more Hispanic voters. The rise saw a new demographic and generation engaged with politics, but now a number of people believe that Americans from minority communities have been subject to campaigns of intimidation. We asked Aura why she feels this is the "biggest attack on voting rights in the past century"...

DazedDigital: How did you become involved with Voting Rights Watch?
Aura Bogado: I’m a journalist who covered the 2004 and 2008 election, and it made sense to track this election through the lens of voting rights.

DD: What is the aim of the organisation?
Aura Bogado: Voting Rights Watch is a joint project of The Nation and; we write about voting rights, and efforts to suppress the vote in already marginalized communities.

DD: How would you define voter suppression?
Aura Bogado:Voter Suppression can be defined as any effort that seeks to disenfranchise people from their right to vote. This includes voter ID measures, cut-offs to early voting, dubious voter purges, voter intimidation, and more. We’ve seem examples of all of these in the lead up to Election Day.

DD: Why is it a problem?
Aura Bogado: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most important victories for the struggle for liberation in the US. Prior to that, Native Americans and people of colour were systematically barred from the franchise. Today, nearly 50 years after its passage, we’re seeing the biggest attack on voting rights in the past century. Here are some examples:

Voter ID laws are essentially a form of poll tax, because not everyone can afford to purchase the paperwork with which to obtain a state-issues photo ID. Keep in mind that in person voter fraud in the US happens one out of every 15,000,000 votes – so there’s no need to demand Ids to verify voters’ identities.

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected with the help of “Souls to the Polls” voting, which refers to the African-American voters who attend church service the Sunday before the election, and then head to their polling station to vote early in order to avoid spending the Tuesday work day in line. Swing states like Florida maintain early voting, but not on that Sunday.

Florida has also conducted dubious voter purges, which disproportionately affects Latino voters because of the way in which they’re conducted.

DD: Do you believe the Republicans, more than the Democrats, are guilty of restricitng voters? If so, why?
Aura Bogado: Kansas’s Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, led the effort to include voter ID on the Republican National Convention platform. He also leads a group of Republican Secretaries of State who, instead of ensuring voters are registered and cast their ballots, have moved to implement new measures to disenfranchise voters. Mike Turzai, a Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania, publicly stated that his state’s voter ID law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” essentially confirming what we already know to be true: people of colour, who tend to vote Democrat, are often unable to get a state-issued ID.

Our coverage is non-partisan, but in comparison, there are few examples of Democrats pushing through voter suppression measures.

DD: Can you give an example of how voter suppression is manifesting itself in America right now?
Aura Bogado: Aside from the examples I’ve already mentioned, we’re really watching out for voter intimidation on Election Day. Groups like True the Vote have been training what they call “poll watchers”, who will often attempt to challenge voters at various polling places around the country.

DD: Do Obama’s policies protect the rights of people to vote fairly in America?
Aura Bogado: Attorney General Eric Holder, who holds the position as part of Obama’s administration, has used the Department of Justice to advocate the rights of voters who may otherwise be disenfranchised in this election. This includes lawsuits, and Department of Justice monitoring in districts that are known to discriminate against certain voters.

DD: What do you think will be the result of voter suppression?
Aura Bogado: It’s hard to call. The move to suppress certain voters from casting a ballot has been met with a lot of pushback. Several states have had their voter ID law struck down or put on hold, while early voting hours have been reinstated and voter purges have been halted in others. This is thanks to that community pushback, and the legal advocacy of groups like The Advancement Project.

However, it’s hard to measure the way voters have been confused and discourages by many voter suppression attempts that we’ve seen these last few months. We also won’t have a real sense of what voter intimidation will look like until.

DD: What’s the sneakiest thing you’ve ever seen or heard of?
Aura Bogado: I spent some time on the Navajo Nation, where voters are being disenfranchised in ways that we rarely hear about. But we shouldn’t be surprised: they were really allowed to start voting 1972.

DD: Do you think people will be deterred from turning out to vote in a few days time?
Aura Bogado: As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to measure discouragement and confusion. During a primary race here in New York, I heard a voter asking a man holding an election banner what kind of identification she needed to vote – and no one in the group of four people seemed to know that the state doesn’t require ID for voting. Nevertheless, she had “heard something on the news” about needing a photo ID. I have yet to see a study that examines how discouragement and confusion among voters – but  I imagine it exists in a meaningful way.

DD: What do you see as the best way to combat voter suppression?
Aura Bogado: Communities of colour have already been pushing back, using education campaigns to inform themselves, and working with advocacy groups to mount legal battles. There’s now talk about a Constitutional Amendment that would make explicit the right to vote for every citizen of the United States – that might be especially necessary as the conservative-leaning Supreme Court may rule (and likely strike down) on the Voting Rights Act next year.