New Documentary on Voter Suppression Is What We Need Right Now


By Deidre Johnson


Amazon Studios’ "All In: The Fight For Democracy" documentary is like a textbook on Black voting history, voting rights violations and atrocities, legalized suppression and tips on what can be done to make sure this doesn’t keep happening.

The film is narrated by Stacey Abrams, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia’s 2018 election, former members of her campaign, and luminaries including veteran politician and political activist Andrew Young, Mother Jones voting rights journalist Ari Berman, and historian and author Carol Anderson. The one-hour-42-minute documentary is an eye-opening look in the United States and Abram’s failed campaign.

All In delves deep into the history of African-American voting in the United States, starting with Reconstruction (1865-1877). It covers the astonishing number of Black politicians elected to the Senate after the Civil War (1861-1865) and the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The documentary looks at how white supremacists would not let this stand, quickly coming up with new discriminatory requirements for voting such as poll taxes, highly complicated literacy tests, and more, including brutal threats against Black voters and lynchings.

The documentary covers how much of these Black voter suppression requirements should have changed with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of nonwhites had not registered to vote. It outlawed the literacy tests and required that “preclearance” be given by U.S. district courts and/or the U.S. attorney general for all changes to voting regulations in certain states with a history of voting discrimination.

The documentary also details how quickly individual states began poking holes in the Voting Rights law after the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, struck down preclearance requirements and how that practice has continued to the present. Abrams pointed out, for example, that after the Shelby decision, nine states quickly changed to government-issued IDs making it more difficult for many people, including young voters, whose regular student IDs are not eligible under this system.

“When you restrict access to the right to vote by using a narrow set of IDs, it’s creating roadblocks to people being able to participate,” Abrams noted.

Today, voter suppression doesn’t look like literacy tests or poll taxes. Instead, some states engage in voter suppression through mandatory government-issued IDs, purging (taking a voter off the voter rolls if they have not voted for two years or have moved and not responded with a new address) and gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is explained in the documentary as “a way of drawing voting districts and bringing unfair advantages to whoever happens to be drawing the lines.” Put simply, gerrymandering is accomplished by drawing lines around certain areas to include and exclude voters in a district.

“Voter suppression and gerrymandering are two sides of the same coin,” says Ari Berman. “Politicians in power try to manipulate the process for themselves at the expense of others.”

All In re-examines why Abrams felt she had reason to question her Republican rival Governor Brian Kemp’s election because he was also Georgia Secretary of State and his office supervised elections, creating a conflict of interest. The film also looks at Kemp’s efforts to quickly take voters off the rolls for any reason, from not voting in the last two elections to the “exact match” voter requirement, which throws out ballots if they don’t have a Social Security or driver’s license signature, regardless of typos.

Abrams’ campaign team tried to counter such efforts to suppress the vote, often going door-to-door appealing to registered voters or registering new voters. “We talked to people. We met them at their doors, their churches, their temples, their mosques, their shrines, their synagogues,” Abrams recalled.

But in the end, it wasn’t enough. Abrams reportedly lost to Kemp by approximately 55,000 votes. She contested the results and asked for a recount but eventually conceded. “He [Kemp] was the constitutionally authorized election supervisor,” Abrams explained on camera.

Unfortunately, there may be more Kemps out there. The film closes with this sobering fact: The Electoral Integrity Project lists the United States elections as being last among Western democracies.

Finally, All In provides some takeaways for the 2020 election:

  1. Increase voter turnout by volunteering to help register voters

  2. Check that you are confirmed to vote and that you have not been purged.

  3. Make sure your polling place has not moved.

  4. Vote early and call friends and family to make sure they are registered

  5. Know your precinct as well as the background of the person for whom you are voting.

  6. Vote by mail. Despite what President Donald Trump says, there is no evidence that mail in ballots or absentee ballots increase voter fraud.

  7. Be sure your voter information is correct and take screenshots of your registration for your records.

  8. Find out what forms of ID are needed to vote in your state and what you can do to be safe when casting socially distanced votes in person.

  9. If in line at the polling place and it closes, stay put, as everyone in line at that time still has a right to vote.

  10. If you make a mistake on your voting form, ask for a new one. If the voting machines close, ask for a paper ballot.

The Crisis magazine is a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color.

© The Crisis Magazine 

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