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Fact Sheet

The Impact of Voter Suppression on Communities of Color

Studies show that new laws will disproportionately harm voters of color. Federal legislation is necessary.

Published: January 10, 2022
Residents wait in long line to vote in a presidential primary election outside the Riverside High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 7, 2020
Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

Over the past decade, schol­ars have stud­ied myriad ways in which certain state voting rules make parti­cip­a­tion dispro­por­tion­ately diffi­cult for Amer­ic­ans of color — includ­ing strict voter ID laws, lines faced on Elec­tion Day, and other facets of our elec­tion system. This analysis cata­logs some of the most prom­in­ent research find­ings on the negat­ive impact of voting restric­tions on voters of color.

There is a large and grow­ing pile of evid­ence that strict voter ID laws dispro­por­tion­ately impact voters of color.

  • Using county-level turnout data around the coun­try, research­ers demon­strated that the racial turnout gap grew when states enacted strict voter ID laws.
  • Research­ers have also looked specific­ally at the turnout of indi­vidu­als in North Caro­lina without proper iden­ti­fic­a­tion, and they found that the enact­ment of the law reduced turnout. The turnout effects contin­ued even after the strict voter ID law was repealed.
  • Another study shows that voters in Texas who would be barred from voting absent the state’s “Reas­on­able Imped­i­ments Declar­a­tion” (a court-ordered remedy allow­ing voters without proper IDs to parti­cip­ate) are dispro­por­tion­ately Black and Latino. The study argues that its “find­ings indic­ate that strict iden­ti­fic­a­tion laws will stop a dispro­por­tion­ately minor­ity, other­wise will­ing set of registered voters from voting.”
  • An article using a similar meth­od­o­logy and admin­is­trat­ive records found that voters of color in Michigan were more likely to show up to the polls without proper iden­ti­fic­a­tion.
  • Yet another study used survey data to demon­strate that voters of color in states across the coun­try lacked access to the needed IDs to vote in their state.
  • While some stud­ies have argued that voter IDs have little effect on over­all turnout, it is clear that voters of color are less likely to have the IDs needed to parti­cip­ate.

Restric­tions on Sunday voting — such as those proposed last year in Geor­gia and Texas — would fall dispro­por­tion­ately on voters of color.

  • Our research showed that voters of color were substan­tially more likely to vote on Sundays in Geor­gia than white voters.
  • Another study argues that these Sunday voters do not seam­lessly trans­ition to other days after cuts are made. For example, when Sunday voting was outlawed in Flor­ida in 2012, Black voters who voted on Sunday in 2008 were espe­cially likely to abstain from voting.

Voters of color consist­ently face longer wait times on Elec­tion Day — lines that would be exacer­bated by cutting altern­at­ive options, such as vote-by-mail or expans­ive early voting hours.

  • Our report from 2020 indic­ates that voters of color around the coun­try repor­ted longer wait times in the 2018 midterms, using self-repor­ted wait times from a national survey.
  • Other research­ers have used cell­phone data to demon­strate the same thing: waits are longer in neigh­bor­hoods with more racial and ethnic minor­it­ies.
  • Other research — includ­ing work from the Bren­nan Center — has also used admin­is­trat­ive data to show that polling places with fewer white voters have more slow­downs.

Even vote-by-mail options, however, don’t completely level the play­ing field. Voters of color face more diffi­culties voting by mail, too.

  • Our research shows that mail ballots were rejec­ted at much higher rates than those of white voters in the Geor­gia primary in 2020.
  • Other stud­ies have found that this was true in Geor­gia and Flor­id­a’s 2018 general elec­tions, too.

Polling place consol­id­a­tion is also espe­cially harm­ful for the turnout of racial and ethnic minor­it­ies.

  • The Bren­nan Center authored the first academic study docu­ment­ing the turnout effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We showed that polling place consol­id­a­tion severely depressed turnout in Milwau­kee’s pres­id­en­tial primary — and that the effects were even larger for Black than white voters.
  • This joins other research show­ing that voters of color are dispro­por­tion­ately impacted by polling place clos­ures. This may be due to worse trans­port­a­tion access.