Voter suppression is a strategy used to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting. It is distinguished from political campaigning in that campaigning attempts to change likely voting behavior by changing the opinions of potential voters through persuasion and organization, activating otherwise inactive voters, or registering new supporters. Voter suppression, instead, attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a candidate or proposition.
The tactics of voter suppression range from minor changes that make voting less convenient, to physically intimidating and even physically attacking prospective voters, which is illegal. Voter suppression can be effective if a significant number of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Shelby v. Holder that voting laws had resulted in voter suppression and discrimination.
In Australia citizens are expected to enroll to vote and it is their responsibility to update their enrollment when they change their address. Even so, it is estimated that about 6% of eligible Australian voters are not enrolled, or are enrolled incorrectly. These are disproportionately younger voters, many of whom might neglect to enroll when they attain voting age.
In 2006, the Howard Government legislated to close the electoral roll much earlier once an election was called. While previously, voters had been allowed seven days of grace after an election had been called to arrange or update their enrollment, new voters were now allowed only until 8:00 pm on the day that the electoral writ was issued to lodge their enrollment form, while those who needed to update their addresses were allowed three days. In Australia, the Prime Minister effectively has the right to determine the date of the election, so long as constitutional rules regarding the maximum term of the parliament are adhered to. This measure was therefore likely to result in many newer voters being precluded from voting in the first election for which they were eligible because the time to arrange their enrollment once an election is called had been greatly reduced.
The measure was widely seen as an attempt at voter suppression aimed at younger voters, surveys had shown that younger voters are more likely than the general population to vote for the Australian Labor Party or the Greens than the Liberal Party. The Government denied that they were trying to suppress some voters, insisting that the purpose of the reform was to smooth the administration of elections and to reduce the possibility of electoral fraud. This was in spite of the fact that the Australian Electoral Commission had requested no such reform, there was no evidence of significant electoral fraud and that the Australian Electoral Commission had been dealing with hundreds of thousands of late enrollments without significant problems for decades.
In July 2010, the left-leaning lobby group GetUp! launched a challenge to this law. The High Court of Australia expedited the hearing so that a ruling could be made in time for the 2010 federal election. The majority ruling struck down early closing of the roll, reinstating the old rule allowing voters seven days grace to arrange or update their enrollment.
Australian citizens of the ages 16 or 17 can enroll online so that when they turn 18 they are able to vote.
Shortly before the Canadian 2011 Federal Election, vote suppression tactics were exercised by issuing robocalls and live calls to falsely advise voters that their polling station had changed. The locations offered by these messages were intentionally false, often to lead voters several hours from the correct stations, and often identified themselves illegally as coming from Elections Canada.
In litigation brought by The Council of Canadians, a federal court found that such fraud had occurred and had probably been perpetrated by someone with access to the Conservative Party's voter database, including its information about voter preferences. The court stated that the evidence did not prove that the Conservative Party or its successful candidates were directly involved. It did, however, criticize the Conservative Party for making "little effort to assist with the investigation". The court did not annul the result in any of six ridings where the fraud had occurred, because it concluded that the number of votes affected had been too small to affect the outcome.
In France being registered on voting lists is not systematical, neither arriving majority age, neither if changing of address, neither if having already been registering on lists. The registration might still be done at times even without any demand to register voters without them asking, but it is not mandatory for authorities.
In April 2019, during Israel's general elections for the 21st Knesset, Likud activists installed hidden cameras in polling stations in Arab communities. Election observers were seen wearing such cameras. Hanan Melcer, the Head of the General Elections Committee, said the cameras were illegal. The following day, PR agency Kaizler Inbar took credit for the operation and said it had been planned in collaboration with Likud. They additionally claimed that voter turnout in Arab communities had fallen under 50% thanks to the presence of the agency's observers in the polling stations, though there is little evidence that the cameras had any effect on the voter turnout, as the Arab population had been promising to boycott the election well in advance.
Political participation is crucial in a democratic country like Taiwan. The analysis of the voting turnout in Taiwan has been extremely high compared to other democratic countries. However, the voting suppression in this country focuses on two main factors of age and ethnicity. Thus, the voting suppression in Taiwan is individuals that are higher in age because of poor health. There are three voting groups that are in Taiwan- Pan-Blue supporters, Pan-Green, and independents. Voters that classified them to be independents are less likely to vote because of receiving less political information. Thus, the inadequate advertisement of political information for the people contributes to voting suppression as many people are not equally well-informed. Another factor is understanding the difference in ethnic backgrounds between Minnan and mainlanders affect their participation in political life.
Lutfur Rahman was the directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets for the Labour Party, in London until he was removed from office for breaching electoral rules. His supporters allegedly intimidated voters at polling stations.
In the United States, elections are administered locally, and forms of voter suppression vary among jurisdictions. At the founding of the country, the right to vote in most states was limited to property-owning white males. Over time, the right to vote was formally granted to racial minorities, women, and youth. During the later 19th and early 20th centuries, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws to suppress poor and racial minority voters - such laws included poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. Most of these voter suppression tactics were made illegal after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even after the repeal of the Jim Crow laws that were implemented by these statutes, there have been repetitive incidents of racial discrimination against voters in Southern States. Specifically, in 2018, 87,000 people in Georgia were unable to vote because of late registration. Many of the states with the strictest voting regulations are swing states, which have been enacted primarily by politicians who represent the Republican party. According to AMP Reports, many people who were predicted to be in favor of voting for the Democratic party had their ballot dismissed, as the study showed in an analysis that "A disproportionate number of those potential voters were people of color or young voters, groups that typically favor Democrats." The history of the previous Jim Crow regulations in the southern states affects the voter suppression today because people that fall into the minority category often have their vote dismissed, due to manipulation of voting regulations.
In Texas, a voter ID law requiring a driver's license, passport, military identification, or gun permit, was repeatedly found to be intentionally discriminatory. The state's election laws could be put back under the control of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, the DOJ has expressed support for Texas's ID law. Sessions was accused by Coretta Scott King in 1986 of trying to suppress the black vote. A similar ID law in North Dakota, which would have disenfranchised large numbers of Native Americans, was also overturned.
In Wisconsin, a federal judge found that the state's restrictive voter ID law led to "real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities"; and, given that there was no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin, found that the law was "a cure worse than the disease." In addition to imposing strict voter ID requirements, the law cut back on early voting, required people to live in a ward for at least 28 days before voting, and prohibited emailing absentee ballots to voters.
Other controversial measures include shutting down Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in minority neighborhoods, making it more difficult for residents to obtain voter IDs; shutting down polling places in minority neighborhoods; systematically depriving precincts in minority neighborhoods of the resources they need to operate efficiently, such as poll workers and voting machines; and purging voters from the rolls shortly before an election.
Often, voter fraud is cited as a justification for such laws even when the incidence of voter fraud is low. In Iowa, lawmakers passed a strict voter ID law with the potential to disenfranchise 260,000 voters. Out of 1.6 million votes cast in Iowa in 2016, there were only 10 allegations of voter fraud; none were cases of impersonation that a voter ID law could have prevented. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, the architect of the bill, admitted, "We've not experienced widespread voter fraud in Iowa."
In May 2017, President Donald Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, for the purpose of preventing voter fraud. Critics have suggested its true purpose is voter suppression. The commission is led by Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, a staunch advocate of strict voter ID laws and a proponent of the Crosscheck system. Crosscheck is a national database designed to check for voters who are registered in more than one state by comparing names and dates of birth. Researchers at Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and Microsoft found that for every legitimate instance of double registration it finds, Crosscheck's algorithm returns approximately 200 false positives. Kobach has been repeatedly sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for trying to restrict voting rights in Kansas.
Social media platforms, specifically Facebook contains 2.4billion active users. The content in regards to election voting on social media includes misinformation and disinformation which contribute to voter suppression. The Brennan Center for Justice identifies several kinds of "voter suppression messages" used by Russia-linked accounts in the 2016 US Presidential election: misinformation about the time or location for voting, promoting attacks against Clinton to discourage supporters, and urging voters to boycott the election or to cast a vote for a third-party candidate.
Drawing upon the literature (e.g., Wang 2012), I define voter suppression as a strategy to break the coalition of the opposition. Accordingly, I identify four types of voter suppression messages: election boycott, deception (lying about time, location or manner of voting), third-party candidate promotion (e.g., the promotion of Jill Stein targeting likely Hillary Clinton voters), and same-side candidate attack (i.e., an in-kind candidate attack, such as an attack on Clinton targeting likely Clinton voters).