The Unfair Fight


Margaux Reyl

Students like Kate Reynolds ’21 feel strongly about the injustice going on in our electoral system today.

We all remember learning about extreme voter suppression in the south during the Jim Crow Era in American History.  Designed by state governments, literacy exams of thirty questions had to be completed in less than ten minutes, and one wrong answer meant failure. These were designed to frustrate and demoralize prospective voters. These exams were supposedly applicable to all prospective voters, but in fact they were disproportionately administered to African-American voters. Poll taxes, a form of payment required to vote, were administered at a flat rate, creating a barrier to entry for the poor and keeping the wealthy in power.

On August 6th, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act, it seemed as if the problem of voter suppression was nearly solved. Created to fight the disenfranchisement and suppression of prospective voters, the Voting Rights Act outlawed the discriminatory voting practices, like literacy exams and poll taxes. The government sent federal officials to the South to register voters. In Alabama alone, 20,000 African-American voters were registered in only eleven days. The most significant part of the act was its Provision Five, which forced states and countries with the worst history of discrimination to have an extra check from the government whenever they wanted to pass a voting law. In order to stop future discrimination before it occurs, all new laws had to be approved by an attorney general or federal judge before going into effect.

People use less blunt-force intimidation today, but a number of state legislatures have adopted voting requirements and practices with the intent of suppressing the vote,” said Dr. Davis, AP American History teacher. 

In 2013, the Supreme Court chose to remove Provision Five in the court case County v. Holder,  ruling 5 to 4 that the formula from Provision Five used to determine which states needed more federal oversight, was outdated and unconstitutional. States like Alabama claimed the government was being too invasive; states should be able to create their own laws without being checked. Although the states’ rights argument seems reasonable, the overturning of Provision Five led to immediate unconstitutional practices and abuses. Within 24 hours of Provision Five’s judgement, Texas announced it would implement a strict photo ID law. Alabama and Mississippi also began to enforce ID laws that previously had been stopped by federal pre-clearance. Restrictive laws can still be contested in court, but because of the gutting of Provision Five, they are not blocked in time. This has caused a resurgence of voter suppression in a different form than that during Jim Crow, but potentially equally as pernicious. Dr. Davis, AP American History teacher at Bronx Science, said, “People use less blunt-force intimidation today, but a number of state legislatures have adopted voting requirements and practices with the intent of suppressing the vote.”

After the results of the 2018 Georgia governor race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, civil rights groups have raised questions about possible election rigging and voter suppression. Abrams narrowly lost to Republican candidate Kemp, Georgia’s then secretary of state in charge of the state’s voter rolls. Many Democrats believed Kemp won in part by taking thousands of people off the voting rolls at the last minute for slight address discrepancies. Kate Reynolds ’21 said, “I think that if all the people who should have been allowed to vote had voted, then she would have won. I think it’s really unfair.” Reynolds  went on to say, “Brian Kemp abused his position of power to win the election.”

After her loss, Stacey Abrams chose to stay out of the 2020 elections despite support from fellow Democrats who believed she could be a favorite for the presidency. Instead, she is choosing to focus on fighting the injustice that she faced in the 2018 governor race, founding a new initiative called Fair Fight 2020. Fair Fight not only tackles the injustices created by voter suppression but also spreads awareness on the issue. Abrams’ reach extends beyond Georgia. Fair Fight plans to invest up to $5 million in its efforts and target at least twenty states. It will work to fight the three biggest problems that restrict voters: voter registration, ballot access, and voter counting. Fair Fight  plans to fix inaccurate voter rolls, address shortages of voting machines, standardize the counting of absentee ballots, and implement a hotline where restricted voters can report election irregularities. Emma Pernebo ’21 said, “Abrams’ efforts are admirable. She is giving up a chance at a high seat in office to ensure her fellow democrats have a ‘fair fight’.” 

Fair Fight is still working hard to ensure that the 2020 elections remain fair. The organization plans to connect activists across the country to collectively demand change. But this will only be effective if people get involved. On the Fair Fight website, Abrams calls on the American people to protect the vote, writing, “Democracy only works when we work for it. When we fight for it, when we demand it.” The organization believes the only way to end systemic voter suppression is not only through advocacy, but through legislation and litigation. It is involved in multiple court cases, including a lawsuit against the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and Georgia’s Board of Elections, challenging the management of the 2018 election that disenfranchised voters. When asked if Abram’s goal of  systematic change was feasible, Reynolds said, “It’s an institutional injustice. It’s going to be difficult to end, but I think that we have to try and find a solution so that we can represent all Americans in our Democracy.”