5 Lessons on Fighting Voter Suppression From Alabama’s Special Election

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The United States does not have a history of voter fraud – a term that encompasses everything from casting more than one vote to impersonating someone else – but it does have a long track record of voter suppression. From felon disenfranchisement to voter ID laws to poll watchers, these tactics affect communities of color.

On Tuesday – as people lined up to cast their votes for either Doug Jones or Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election – civil rights groups received hundreds of complaints of voter suppression, according to Mother Jones. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s voter hotline received 235 calls about being put on inactive status or incorrectly being told they can’t vote. “Some of these voters are told that they cannot vote,” said Coty Montag, the director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, according to Mother Jones. “Others are being given provisional ballots. The correct [procedure] is that voters who appear on the inactive list must be allowed an opportunity to re-identify and vote a regular ballot.”

But despite this and the state’s record of suppressing Black voters, this demographic came out to vote for Jones, the Democratic challenger. White voters – 72 percent of white men and 63 percent of white women – voted for Moore, a man accused of preying on underage women. It was Black voters – led by Black women – who delivered a strong rebuke to the Trump Administration.

Despite Black people making up 26 percent of Alabama’s population, they made up nearly 30 percent of those who voted on Tuesday. Despite the voter suppression that continues to exist, this election is a lesson into how we can combat a system that is designed to disenfranchise voters of color. Here are 5 lessons we can learn from Alabama’s special election:

Grassroots organizing made a real impact.

As both The Atlantic and Slate reported, grassroots organizing proved there was strength in numbers. This year, organizations like the NAACP worked with churches, sororities, activist groups, and more to spread awareness and to get people registered to vote, including felons.

They aimed campaigns at people who didn't have the right ID.

In general, voter ID laws require specific state-issued forms of identification in order to vote, even if you’ve voted at that polling location before. The awareness campaigns in Alabama were aimed at people who might not have the right IDs. According to the ACLU, 34 states have identification requirements, with seven of them requiring photo IDs.

“Many Americans do not have one of the forms of identification states acceptable for voting,” according to the ACLU. “These voters are disproportionately low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities.  Such voters more frequently have difficulty obtaining ID, because they cannot afford or cannot obtain the underlying documents that are a prerequisite to obtaining government-issued photo ID card.”

Organizations offered rides to the polls.

One of the ways that legislators have kept people of color from voting is by reducing the number of polls in predominantly Latino and black neighborhood. This year, dozens of organizations offered rides to the polls for drivers, where last year, there were more improvisational groups offering rides.

Churches changed their strategies.

Upon learning from the Mobile NAACP that its past outreach efforts had not worked, churches robocalled the congregation and set up tables registering them to vote.

The Jones campaign placed ads in African-American communities.

Instead of just adding ads on highways, the Jones campaign placed them in African-American communities, where they were more likely to see them.