In a democracy (of almost any kind), one of the most basic ideas is that people have a voice in what happens to themselves and the group. (By “voice”, I mean they have some say in what happens.) This does not always work out perfectly, but it is much better than not having a voice at all!
One of the common ways that people have a voice in democracy is by voting. There are many ways of voting, and some ways are better than others (maybe we can talk about that some other time!). But one thing that is true across different types of voting is that people are allowed to vote, as an important way to use that voice.
Because of that, we should be aware when people try to limit people’s ability to vote. If somebody is trying to make it so that others don’t have a voice, it is a warning sign. We usually call it “voter suppression”, meaning that votes are stopped or “suppressed”. People might try to stop others from voting for a variety of reasons:
- they think their own voice is more important than others
- they think that democracy is not the right way to run things for the group
- they want to hold unfair power over others
- they are afraid things will change from what they are used to
Often, it could be more than one of those reasons!
There are many ways that people try to stop others from voting, such as:
- making it cost money to vote: either directly (like a tax/fee) or indirectly (like needing to spend money or miss work to travel to vote or to send in your vote)
- making it confusing to vote: with complex voting systems, disinformation (meaning: spreading lies about voting or about the details & options for the vote), or by changing the rules
- limiting voting options: by places available, the times allowed to vote, and what even is allowed to show up on the voting list
- limiting who can vote: by age, race, gender, or some other status in the voting group
Sometimes, people even make it so that the voting system itself helps some groups or areas more than others (examples of this are “electoral colleges”, “gerrymandering”, and “two-party systems”, in case you want to look those up).
So, if a vote is coming up, and you see a group trying to limit who can vote, consider why they are doing that. What do they have to gain? Why don’t they respect the voices of the people they don’t want to vote? Can I help the people that won’t get to vote? What can we change to make it so more people are allowed to have a voice?