Voter Suppression: Every Voter Card is Covered with Blood

Voter Suppression: Every Voter Card is Covered with Blood

Editorial credit: Johnny Silvercloud /

By Pearl Phillip

Listen to the interview with Dr. Kareem Crayton here:

The right to vote, particularly for Black voters in the U.S., has been bought with blood, sweat, and tears. Voting is a fundamental right in a democratic society, yet the journey to secure this right has been marred by violence, discrimination, and systemic barriers that are still an issue in the 2024 elections. The statement “every voter’s card is covered with blood” is often attributed to Nigerian politician Dino Melaye, known for his outspoken nature and controversial remarks. He made this statement in the context of political violence and electoral malpractice in Nigeria to emphasize the sacrifices made by citizens in the struggle for democracy and free and fair elections. This phrase also captures the prohibitive cost of securing voting rights in the U.S., particularly for the Black community.

In a pivotal 2013 Supreme Court decision, a 5-4 ruling significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act, allowing state legislatures to enact laws that restrict voting rights. This decision marked a decade of challenges to voter access, as many states moved swiftly to pass measures widely criticized as voter suppression tactics.

Recently, Georgia has been a focal point for discussions on voter suppression, with several notable examples such as aggressive voter purge policies, minor discrepancies, such as a missing hyphen or a middle initial not matching, can lead to applications being put on hold or rejected, reductions in polling locations, restrictive ID requirements and limits on absentee voting.These examples highlight ongoing concerns about voter suppression in Georgia, prompting debates and legal challenges about the fairness and accessibility of the electoral process in the state.

Also in Georgia, a controversial provision of the state’s election law passed in 2021 made it illegal for non-election workers to provide food or water to voters waiting in line at polling places. This provision, part of Senate Bill 202, has been widely criticized as a form of voter suppression. Supporters argued that it prevents electioneering and maintains order at polling places. Still, critics argued that it disproportionately affects minority and low-income voters who may face longer wait times due to fewer polling locations or other factors. With the Primaries being in June and the recent heat wave, this could severely impact voting numbers.

The law sparked a national debate, with opponents arguing that it creates unnecessary barriers to voting and unfairly targets communities that historically face higher rates of voter suppression. Critics viewed the restriction on providing water and food as a deliberate attempt to discourage voting, particularly in urban areas with predominantly Black voters. Legal challenges and public outcry ensued, leading to ongoing discussions about voting rights and the balance between election integrity and voter access in Georgia and beyond.

In the context of the 2024 elections, addressing barriers to voting rights and combating voter suppression is not just a matter of policy—it’s a critical aspect of ensuring equitable, democratic participation, particularly for marginalized communities like the Black population. The disproportionate impact of these barriers on Black voters has been well-documented, reflecting historical injustices and systemic inequalities.

As the nation heads into the 2024 elections, voter suppression looms large, with many advocating for comprehensive reforms to safeguard the voting rights of all citizens. This includes measures to combat gerrymandering, expand early voting opportunities, and ensure access to polling places in communities of color. Efforts to enact such reforms are not only about promoting fairness and equality but also about upholding the fundamental principles of democracy.

In an episode of People Power & Politics Radio Show and Podcast,  Dr. Leroy Gadsden, an Executive member of the NAACP, highlighted the historical and current struggles to secure and maintain this fundamental democratic right. 

As we approach the 2024 elections, Dr Gadsden posited: “Every ballot is held in a black hand and is covered by blood. Nobody gave us this right. And I’ve always been curious: why is America so anti-Black people and their right to vote? This gives any democracy that a citizen has a right to participate in the government, and the highest form of participation is registration and voting. Why is America so against us and our right to vote?”

Gadsden’s journey with the NAACP began in his youth in South Carolina, where he witnessed firsthand the challenges Black communities faced in gaining electoral representation. He recounted instances of blatant voter suppression, such as ballots from predominantly Black districts mysteriously disappearing or being tampered with. These early experiences ignited a lifelong passion for civil rights and justice, leading him to various leadership roles within the NAACP, including serving as Branch President of the Jamaica Branch in New York. This is still happening in 2024. Recently, the Supreme Court upheld racial gerrymandering in its decision on Alexander v. SC NAACP. By a 6-3 vote, the Court overturned a federal trial court’s unanimous ruling that found Congressional District 1 in South Carolina’s 2022 map to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

Maya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP:

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP is an egregious and blatant assault on the rights of Black voters. It blesses the sin of a clear effort to weaken Black voters’ electoral voice, rather than compete for their votes.”

Maya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

This decision represents a disturbing action by a predominantly conservative majority to impose its ideological stance on voting rights — one that disregards historical context and the principles of the Constitution — at a time when our nation is increasingly racially diverse. The Court has egregiously overstepped its authority by disregarding the trial court’s factual conclusions and creating more significant hurdles to contest unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. This decision severely undermines the ability of communities of color to elect candidates who represent their interests. Justice Kagan compellingly argued in her dissent that the Court seems more focused on protecting racial gerrymandering from legal challenges than preventing state legislatures from implementing such practices.

Wiley added, “We who believe in freedom are not resting. The fight for the future of our democracy is clearer than ever. This opinion adds fuel to a fire that is growing in this country to take it back from those who seek to go back to the past rather than embrace a diverse future. We at The Leadership Conference, the coalition that fought for and won the Voting Rights Act, have fought for its protection for all Americans. We will continue to push Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Freedom to Vote Act, and the Native American Voting Rights Act to ensure our democracy includes and works for all of us.”

The struggle for voting rights in the U.S. has been long and arduous. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, was a landmark in granting African American men the right to vote. However, this legal right was systematically undermined through Jim Crow laws, literacy tests, poll taxes, and outright violence. The Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century sought to dismantle these oppressive systems and secure true enfranchisement for all citizens. 

Despite the successes of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voter suppression has persisted, albeit in more subtle but still equally damaging forms. 

In recent years, states have implemented voter ID laws, purged voter rolls, reduced early voting periods, and closed polling places in predominantly minority areas. These measures disproportionately affect Black voters, who are more likely to face obstacles such as limited access to identification documents, transportation issues, and longer wait times at polling stations a problem especially for hourly wage workers.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – March 7, 2021: Demonstrators carry signs thanking Stacey Abrams and Andrea Miller at a Manhattan rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Editorial credit: Ben Von Klemperer /

Stacey Abrams, a prominent Georgia Democrat who rose to national prominence in 2018 following a closely contested gubernatorial race marred by accusations of voter suppression, founded the non-profit organization Fair Fight to combat voter suppression. Abrams has stated that her narrow loss in the election catalyzed the launching of Fair Fight, emphasizing the organization’s mission to advocate for fair and equitable electoral practices.

“In the wake of the election, my mission was to figure out what work I could do, even if I didn’t have the title of governor,” Abrams says. “What work could I do to enhance or protect our democracy? Because voting rights are the pinnacle of power in our country.”

Related: The Path Toward State Voting Rights Legislation, 1870–2023

According to Dr Gadsden: “If you think about it from the 1965 Voters Right Act, here we were in America all these hundreds of years, we finally had to get an act to ensure we protect our voting rights. But ten years ago, we saw a disabled decision out of Georgia when the feds changed that, and it took away preclearance. And preclearance was, and here we are in a democratic country, we had certain laws on the book that you had areas that were historically involved with racial discrimination when it comes to the right to vote. Before changing a district line, a voting line, or jurisdiction line, they had to go to the federal court and get preclearance.” 


Dr. Gadsden

However, in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the coverage formula for determining which jurisdictions needed to undergo the federal Voting Rights Act’s preclearance process as unconstitutional, effectively rendering the primary federal preclearance process inoperable. This created a gap in federal protections that states promptly exploited: Over the past decade since Shelby County v. Holder; states have enacted at least 29 restrictive voting laws that would have been subject to preclearance and potentially blocked.

State Voting Rights Acts (VRAs) can play a crucial role in addressing this gap by establishing preclearance programs. For instance, state VRAs in Connecticut, New York, and Virginia incorporate a preclearance program.

However, as explained in the Center for American Progress report 8 Ways To Protect American Democracy: “Federal legislation is not the only path to progress; states can also step up to protect Americans from unequal barriers to voting by passing their own state-level voting rights acts (VRAs).”

In rural areas, barriers to voting for Black residents can be compounded by unique challenges such as lack of proper birth records. Many Black residents in these regions may have been born at home rather than in hospitals, leading to incomplete or undocumented birth records. This can create difficulties when obtaining the necessary identification documents to register to vote or cast a ballot.

For example, many older residents in South Carolina and Georgia face challenges not just with obtaining IDs, but specifically with lacking birth certificates. Sheila Thomas, Managing Attorney at South Carolina Legal Services, notes this issue is prevalent in rural and minority communities across the South. For instance, 69-year-old Della Green, a U.S. citizen with a social security number who receives government benefits, has never possessed a birth certificate. Born on Johns Island, S.C., in 1951, she was delivered by a midwife, but her birth was never formally documented.

“Without an ID, I guess no one would give me anything,” said Green.

In the fall of last year, the Movement Advancement Project published “The ID Divide: How Barriers to Identification Affect Diverse Communities and Broader Society.” The report delves deeply into the profound impact of ID barriers on daily life, particularly voting access. It identifies the communities most adversely affected by restrictive policies and proposes strategies for policymakers to tackle systemic inequities and ensure that IDs are accessible to all Americans.   

According to the study, an estimated 15 to 18 million people in the United States do not have access to documents that prove their birth or citizenship, which are crucial for obtaining other forms of identification. Discriminatory and biased ID practices present significant hurdles for specific groups, often stemming from decades of historical injustices. For instance, during the Jim Crow era, many Black individuals were denied access to certain hospitals and were usually not issued birth certificates. Consequently, communities of color are more likely to lack driver’s licenses.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that stringent photo ID requirements for voting reduce voter turnout and unfairly impact specific communities, notably voters of color and young voters.

Without proper birth records, individuals may face challenges in proving their identity and voting eligibility under state voter ID laws. Additionally, obtaining alternative forms of identification can be burdensome and time-consuming, particularly in areas with limited access to government services or distant county offices.

Initiatives are needed to improve access to voter registration services, streamline the process of obtaining acceptable identification, and enhance voter education efforts tailored to rural communities. Advocacy for policies that recognize alternative forms of identification and support for community-led efforts to address these barriers is essential to ensuring equitable access to voting rights for all residents, regardless of their birth circumstances or geographic location.

Addressing these barriers requires reforms to felony disenfranchisement laws, simplification of restoration processes, increased education and outreach efforts, and initiatives to combat stigma and discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals. Ensuring that all citizens, including those who have served their sentences, have equal access to their voting rights is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and representative democracy.

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However, the fight for voting rights is far from over. Recent legal challenges and changes, such as removing preclearance requirements and threats to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, pose significant hurdles. These developments could disenfranchise many voters, making the NAACP’s work even more vital. Dr. Gadsden stressed the need for vigilance and active participation to counter these efforts and protect the right to vote:”If there is anybody who has a right to vote, it’s people of color. Why? Because we paid a dear price for this. And that’s the most cherished part of a democracy, which is this thing called the right to vote. And it’s a tragedy we don’t exercise that right. The rights of the people are up to the person who governs them. Before this place was a country, you had people of color that fought and died for it.”

Many minority lawmakers and voting rights activists viewed the Supreme Court decision on June 9 directing Alabama to redraw its congressional districts as a significant triumph, poised to pave the way for dismantling political maps that weaken the influence of communities of color.

In a recent interview, Dr. Kareem Crayton, senior director in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, stated, “The decision affirms the Congressional support and judicial principles that gave rise to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Communities of color in this increasingly diverse country need assurance in the law that their right to be fairly represented in government can come from the courts when legislators fail to follow the law. Despite the Court’s efforts of limiting the use of litigation to address discriminatory districts, this opinion reflects a fulsome application of precedent — which affirms the view of a unanimous district court.

Dr. Kareem Crayton

Make no mistake, the ruling still leaves us with a weakened tool of enforcement. Ten years ago, this court ended the most effective part of the legislation, preclearance, and in 2021, made it very hard to use Section 2 to challenge suppressive discriminatory voting rules.”

He emphasized, “Congress can and should step in to protect fair access to voting and representation for all. Our legislators must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.”

Research indicates that new voting laws will unfairly impact voters of color, underscoring the need for federal intervention. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law recently published an article titled “Black and Latino Voting Power Threatened in Redistricting Case,” discussing a lawsuit against Galveston County, Texas. Filed by Black and Latino residents, the lawsuit challenges the county’s racially discriminatory district map. Notably, Galveston County, known as the birthplace of Juneteenth, contends that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act bars joint challenges from Black and Latino voters. However, as highlighted in an amicus brief by the Brennan Center for Justice and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Petteway v. Galveston County, this interpretation is incorrect. Section 2 explicitly permits voters of different racial backgrounds to collaborate in legal challenges when they share a common grievance.

“People have died — given their life so that we can have the opportunity to have a right to vote and to vote for a candidate of our choice,” said Patricia Toliver, a Black plaintiff in the case who has lived in Galveston for 75 years, in an interview this month. “We won’t have that.”

“It’s time to speak up,” she continued.

This story was produced as part of the 2024 Elections Reporting Mentorship, organized by the Center for Community Media and funded by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

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