WASHINGTON – As Black History Month begins, state legislatures are on the frontlines of protecting and determining the future of hard-fought civil rights. Our country’s dark history of systemic racism continues to permeate today, especially as Republican legislatures continue to deny Black Americans access to the ballot box and rig systems to take away power and representation from Black communities. Republicans must be held accountable for the proliferation of anti-democratic attacks on voting rights and extreme racial gerrymandering.
Here’s a look at the array of voter suppression tactics Republicans in control of state legislatures across the country wield to prevent Black voters from gaining political representation – the cornerstone of American democracy.
Black voters are underrepresented in state legislatures in the South and across the country due to deliberate racial gerrymandering. Within just the last year, Republican-drawn maps have been challenged in several states for the ways they use district lines to divide and pack voters of color into districts to reduce their overall voting power.
- In Georgia, a federal judge ruled last year that the Republican maps were discriminatory and unlawful because they diluted Black voting power and ignored Georgia’s growing Black population. After a few attempts at a redrawing, GOP leaders were successful in drawing other minority voters out of opportunity districts and adding white Republicans in their place, ultimately diluting the power of two majority-minority districts in the state legislature in the north Atlanta metro area.
- In North Carolina, voting rights advocates and Black voters have filed lawsuits charging GOP legislative leaders with racially gerrymandering the state House and Senate by deliberately targeting the “Black belt” and other historic Black districts. After the 2020 census, when new maps were drawn, Black representation from certain regions decreased significantly, bringing the number of Black House representatives from six to three and Black senators from three to one from eastern North Carolina.
Burdensome photo ID laws
Photo ID laws are inherently racist and discriminatory, given they disproportionately impact voters who are low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, elderly, and people with disabilities. Nationally, 25% of Black American citizens don’t have what Republican proposals often set forth as an ID requirement, compared to just 8% of their white counterparts. States that impose strict voter ID laws depress turnout by 2-3 percentage points, which in some states is tens of thousands of votes lost.
- Georgia Republicans require an ID to vote, even though 272,000 registered Georgia voters don’t have a driver’s license or state ID on record. Black voters comprise 56% of voters without ID in Georgia. From 2017 to 2019, Georgia passed an “exact match” law that mandated a perfect match in the voter name cited on registration records and approved forms of identification, a system that placed more than 50,000 voter registrations on hold. In 2018, 80 percent of voters whose registrations were blocked were people of color. This discriminatory law was overturned in 2019.
- In Wisconsin, GOP-implemented photo ID is strictly required to vote in person, which has dissuaded thousands of voters – primarily from Black and Brown communities – from voting.
- North Carolina Republicans have pushed unconstitutional voter ID laws for a decade. Last November, after five years of litigation, a Republican voter photo ID proposal finally took effect. A previous ruling slammed this law as “impermissible intent to discriminate against African American voters in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.”
- This year, New Hampshire Republicans introduced legislation to eliminate all exceptions for voter photo ID requirements.
Limiting the number, location, and availability of polling locations
The reduction of polling places nationwide has primarily impacted nonwhite neighborhoods, where more residents cast ballots in person on Election Day. Black and Latino voters are nearly twice as likely to report long wait times at polling locations. Residents of entirely Black neighborhoods wait 29% longer to vote, with 74% waiting more than 30 minutes at their polling place.
- In Georgia, wait times have skyrocketed in the diverse Atlanta metro area, with a burgeoning population coinciding with polling places closing. Republican lawmakers also passed a law making it a crime to give food and water to voters standing in line at polls, which inherently targets polling places with long lines
- In Wisconsin, polling place consolidation depressed turnout in Milwaukee’s presidential primary in 2022, with Black voters most intimately impacted.
- In North Carolina, Republicans imposed restrictions on early voting because Black voters disproportionately use this method.
Restricting mail-in ballots
2020 marked the first year that non-white voters began voting by mail in large numbers, and since then, Republicans in state legislatures have since undermined this process by reducing the number of drop boxes and ballot return assistance.
- A Republican law in Georgia reduced the number of drop boxes in metro Atlanta from 111 to just 23, as well as restricted the hours open and their use to only early voting periods. Prior to this draconian law, drop boxes were used by more than half of voters who chose to vote by mail in some Georgia counties.
- In Wisconsin, a 2022 state supreme court ruling banned drop boxes and ballot return assistance. A former Republican state elections commissioner later celebrated depressed voter turnout in Milwaukee in 2022, bragging: “the major reduction happen[ed] in the overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic areas.” A conservative group is now pushing for drop boxes to be permanently banned in the state.
- Last year, Republican lawmakers in Kansas passed bills ending the three-day grace period for mail-in and early ballots. Luckily, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed these discriminatory proposals.
Denying voting rights to former felons
Laws that permanently bar former felons from participating in political elections are also racist. Systemic racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has led to Black Americans facing harsher sentences for the same offenses.
- In Arizona, Mississippi, and Alabama, even after completing their sentences, some people with felony convictions cannot vote, which disproportionately impacts voters of color.
- In Pennsylvania, people convicted of felonies in prison cannot vote. In North Carolina, people on felony probation, parole, or post-release supervision are not allowed to vote. Given Black Americans face longer sentence times, this bars their participation in elections for unjustly longer periods of time.
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Heather Williams issued the following statement:
“This Black History Month, as we celebrate the vast contributions of Black Americans, we must also stay in the fight to fully realize the promise of America for all Americans. The DLCC is committed to helping build a stronger, more equitable nation by continuing to transform the landscape of state legislative politics and build new majorities that are truly representative of the communities they serve.”
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) is the official Democratic Party committee dedicated to winning America’s state legislatures and building state infrastructure. Over the last decade, we have fought cycle-over-cycle to gain a dozen new legislative chamber majorities and we are leading the effort to bring national attention and investment to our ballot level. State legislatures are the building blocks of our democracy and have the closest connections to Americans’ day-to-day lives. From protecting fundamental freedoms and voting rights to growing the middle class, the DLCC and state legislators are moving the Democratic agenda forward and shaping the future of this country.