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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.
Australian citizens are expected to enroll to vote, and it is their responsibility to update their enrollment when they change their address. Even so, an estimated 6% of eligible Australian voters are not enrolled or are enrolled incorrectly. They 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 than before. Previously, voters had been allowed seven days of grace after an election had been called to arrange or update their enrollment, but new voters were now allowed only until 8:00 p.m. on the day that the electoral writ was issued to lodge their enrollment form, and 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 as long as constitutional rules regarding the maximum term of the parliament are adhered to. That 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 since surveys had shown that younger voters are more likely than the general population to vote for the Australian Labor Party or the Greens than Howard's Liberal Party. The government denied that it was trying to suppress some voters and insisted that the purposes of the reform were a smoother administration of the elections and the reduction of the possibility of electoral fraud. However, the Australian Electoral Commission had requested no such reform, there had been no evidence of significant electoral fraud, and the Australian Electoral Commission had been dealing with hundreds of thousands of late enrollments without significant problems for decades.
In July 2010, the left-wing lobby group GetUp! launched a challenge to the 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 and reinstated the old rule allowing voters seven days grace to arrange or update their enrollment.
Australian citizens of the ages 16 or 17 may enroll online so that when they turn 18 they are able to vote.
Shortly before the 2011 Canadian federal election, voter suppression tactics were exercised by issuing robocalls and live calls, which falsely advised voters that their polling station had been changed. The locations offered by those messages were intentionally false, often led 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 that its successful candidates had been directly involved, but it criticized 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 change the outcome.
In France, being registered on voting lists is not automatic by arriving majority age, changing address, or even having already been registering.
Registration is sometimes done even without any request, but that 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, called the cameras illegal. The following day, the public relations agency Kaizler Inbar took credit for the operation and said it had been planned in collaboration with Likud. It claimed that voter turnout in Arab communities had fallen under 50% by the presence of the agency's observers in the polling stations, but there is little evidence that the cameras had any effect on the voter turnout since the Arabs had promised to boycott the election well before the vote.
Political participation is crucial in a democratic country like Taiwan. The analysis of its voting turnout shows that it has been much higher than other democratic countries. However, voting suppression in Taiwan focuses on two main factors: age and ethnicity. Thus, voting suppression in Taiwan involves older individuals in poor health. There are three voting groups that are in Taiwan: Pan-Blue supporters, Pan-Green, and independents. Voters calling themselves independents are less likely to vote because they receive less political information. Thus, the inadequate advertising of political information for the people contributes to voting suppression since such people are less informed.
Another factor is the difference in ethnic backgrounds between Minnan and Mainlanders, which affects their political participation.
Lutfur Rahman was the directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets for the British Labour Party. He was removed from office in his London borough after his conviction breaching electoral rules. His supporters had allegedly intimidated Tower Hamlets voters at polling stations.
Main article: Voter suppression in the United States
In the United States, elections are administered locally, and forms of voter suppression vary among jurisdictions. When the country was founded, 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.
In the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws to suppress poor and racial minority voters that involved poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. Most of those voter suppression tactics were made illegal after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even after the repeal of those statutes, there have been repetited incidents of racial discrimination against voters, especially in the South. For example, 87,000 people in Georgia were unable to vote in 2018 because of late registration. Many of the strictest voting regulations are in swing states and have been enacted primarily by U.S. Republican Party politicians. According to AMP Reports, many people who were predicted to be in favor of voting for the U.S. Democratic Party had their ballot dismissed. The study's analysis noted, "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 minorities often have their vote dismissed by the manipulation of voting regulations.
In 2013, voter ID laws arose after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Some argue that such laws amount to voter suppression against African-Americans.
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. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, the DOJ 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 many Native Americans, was also overturned.
In Wisconsin, a federal judge found that the state's restrictive voter ID law had led to "real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities." Since there was no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin, it found that the law was "a cure worse than the disease." In addition to imposing strict voter ID requirements, the law reduced 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, which makes 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 needed 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 if the incidence 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 of which being 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, U.S. 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 was 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, which is 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.
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