‘Voter suppression’ could be happening in Black communities while American politicians say ‘Black Lives Matter’

Voters in very long queue in Atlanta, Georgia
Afroze Fatima Zaidi

Primary election voting took place in the American state of Georgia on Tuesday 9 June. However, thousands of voters were reportedly unable to cast their votes. Across the state, polling stations have been closed and technical issues have caused problems with newly purchased voting machines.

On Twitter, many people slammed the difficulties faced by voters as “voter suppression”:

 

It didn’t go unnoticed that this issue disproportionately affected Black voters. Over 32% of Georgia’s population is Black, compared with 13% of the national population. And the failures in the primary election in Georgia are particularly glaring against the backdrop of widespread Black Lives Matter protests across the US. Prominent voices, including senator Kamala Harris, have criticised this disenfranchisement of Black communities:

Not free or fair

In fact, Georgia isn’t new to controversy when it comes to elections. In 2018, Republican Brian Kemp won the election for governor against Stacey Abrams in the midst of allegations that the voting system, overseen by Kemp and his team, “left voters lawfully purged from the [electoral] rolls, waiting in the rain and facing rejections of their ballots for arbitrary reasons”.

With support from the Republicans, voting for the primary election in Georgia seems to have been beset with similar obstacles, which could disenfranchise Black voters in particular:

Georgia is ostensibly a swing state and the seat is a target for the Democrats. The barriers to voting in the state have caused people to question whether the election can be described as “free and fair”:

A rigged system?

Alongside the closing of polling stations, one key cause for concern in the 2020 presidential election is the introduction of electronic voting machines. Lawyer and election security advocate Jennifer Cohn explained on Twitter why the introduction of Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) is “dangerous” for the elections.

Cohn described how the ‘paper ballots’ printed by BMDs are different to hand-marked ballots. Firstly because BMDs can easily be hacked but also because illegible barcodes can make it harder to tell which candidate a person is voting for.

If that wasn’t troubling enough, it turns out Kemp reportedly purchased the voting machines from a company championed by his former chief of staff Jared Thomas:

Black votes matter

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, many felt the need to highlight how the failures in Georgia’s voting system will disproportionately impact Black people:

And basketball player LeBron James questioned whether the voting system is “structurally racist”:

Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state for Georgia, has vowed to launch an investigation into the failings of the voting system which took place on 9 June. Meanwhile, as House democrats ‘take the knee’ in photo ops to publicly support Black Lives Matter, their efforts would be better diverted towards calling out the disenfranchisement of voters in Black communities.

Now is the time for them to go beyond paying lip service and actually call for accountability from the Republican government. Because just saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ isn’t enough. Our support means little if we aren’t using the power and privilege at our disposal to challenge the structures excluding Black people and putting them at a disadvantage in all areas of society.

Featured image via Twitter screengrab/ New York Times

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