POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Voter Suppression

Voter suppression is the practice of preventing certain groups from voting through the use of intimidation or other means. The practice is committed by those that want to prevent an undesirable outcome by reducing the number of votes cast for a specific choice on the ballot. The term is broad, and voter suppression can take a variety of different forms.

Perhaps the most extreme form occurs when a government institutes laws making it difficult or impossible for certain groups to vote.  In the Jim Crow era American South, voting for African-Americans was not specifically illegal, but the introduction of poll taxes and literacy rates prevented large sections of the community from even registering, let alone voting. Only after the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were these regulations abandoned. In modern times, there has been a push to demand voters must present an ID card when at the polling station. Critics claim that this is a form of voter suppression directed at minority communities who may not have as easy access to these cards.

Voter suppression does not always come directly from the state. Individual actors and groups may aim to prevent opposition voters from casting their ballots. In 2006, for example, four John Kerry supporters slashed the tires of vehicles that were to be used drive Republican voters to the polls. Further north in Canada, voters received robo-calls in the 2011 election giving them false information on where the polling stations were.

Online voting presents a potential solution to some aspects of suppression, since if voters do not have to go to a specific location, it is more difficult to prevent them from voting.

Find out more about online voting and its advantages here. 

See also: Voter Turnout, Polling Place, Election Campaign

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