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Deconstructing Democracy: U.S. Voter Suppression, Past and Present

Beginning in March 2016, Senior Fellow Samantha Keng worked as a campus organizer for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, where she was in charge of directing a civic engagement campaign at Emory University. In the frenzy of election season, Samantha, along with Senior Fellow River Bunkley found that a crucial piece of dialogue was absent: there was little talk about voter suppression, historical and present. When discussing the deep roots of white supremacy in the U.S., the deliberate disenfranchisement of people of color and other marginalized groups, such as undocumented immigrants and low-income communities can not be ignored. Samantha wanted to spark a conversation about the continuing legacies of voter suppression, connecting a history of racial oppression to the realities of how this system plays out today.

The main problem Deconstructing Democracy: U.S. Voter Suppression, Past and Present addressed was a lack of education concerning the history and the present-day effect of voter suppression. In a previous presentation on voter suppression Samantha gave, alongside her NAACP Political Action Committee co-chair, they began by handing out copies of a Jim Crow-era literacy test that was given out in Louisiana. Then, they continued with a trivia section that posed several true/false questions about modern voter I.D. laws and methods of voter suppression.

When discussing the deep roots of white supremacy in the U.S., the deliberate disenfranchisement of people of color and other marginalized groups, such as undocumented immigrants and low-income communities can not be ignored. 

This project was a panel discussion and presentation on the historical evolution of voter suppression in the U.S. The event was divided into several parts. First, they gave an introduction and a brief overview of historical voter suppression (poll taxes, literacy tests, white primaries, the grandfather clause, Klan violence, etc.) as well as modern manifestations of voter suppression.

The astonishment of the audience at these facts signaled to Samantha that voter suppression is a fundamentally unaddressed topic in political discourse, although it plays a central role in structuring systems of power.

They had three panelists – Dr. Carol Anderson (Chair of African American Studies at Emory University and author of the acclaimed book “White Rage”), Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado (African American History professor and author of “Atlanta and the Civil Rights Movement”), and P.h.D. student La’Neice Littleton (lecturer and researcher on literacy on slave plantations) – who discussed the nuances of voter suppression and shared elements of their research on the topic.

The intent of the event was explicitly educational, designed to be both informative and thought-provoking. Their overarching goal was for attendees to leave seeing the connections between voter suppression, racial oppression and the maintenance of white supremacy.