CARED Perspectives: Voter Suppression and Wellbeing

By Lincoln Hill, MA

This blog post is a part of the series, “CARED Perspectives,” developed by the APAGS Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. This series will discuss current events and how these events relate to graduate students in psychology. If you are interested in contributing to the CARED Perspectives series, please contact Lincoln Hill.

polling stationThe 2018 United States midterm elections ushered in record-breaking voter turnout with 49.4% of possible voters casting a ballot in the elections compared to just 36.7% in 2014. Following the election, media coverage heavily focused on this notable turnout and the many progressive policy proposals and surge of diverse candidates. However some of the biggest news stories that emerged from the election period centered on voter suppression. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines voter suppression as “measures to make it harder for Americans—particularly black people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities—to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot.” With increased attention to claims of voter roll purges, poll closures, gerrymandering, and biased voter ID laws, voter suppression poses a violation to constitutional rights as well as human rights. These measures disproportionately affect racial minority and other marginalized communities, obstruct healthy democracy, and challenge the dignities and well-being of those directly impacted.

When individuals are denied opportunities to actively participate in decision-making processes that impact their well-being and environment such as democratic elections, they are deprived of their basic human rights. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Hence, voter suppression and disenfranchisement (the state of being deprived the right to vote) remain in discordance with these universal standards.

From a social ecological perspective, health is not solely influenced by individual traits and factors, but also the social environment within which individuals reside. Common political issues such as education and healthcare policies directly influence an individual’s social world. As such, voter suppression tactics that hinder civic engagement also hinder opportunities for individuals to participate in altering their environments by voting on integral issues –which quite literally impacts their health and well-being.

As psychologists-in-training, we should position ourselves as staunch advocates for voting rights and protections. We must ensure that all citizens have the ability to participate in decision-making processes, thus preserving their dignity and value as citizens and community members.

Steps you can take as a graduate student to advocate for the preservation of voting rights:

  • Educate yourself and others about restrictive voting laws and policies by state
  • Contact your local government representatives and hold them accountable for suppressive voting measures
    • Advocate for voter registration expansion
  • Create voting information guides
  • Participate in community outreach opportunities to inform citizens of voter suppression tactics and pressing issues that may influence their health and wellbeing
  • If you are concerned about yours or others’ voting rights being violated, the ACLU recommends contacting the Election Protection Hotline (866-OUR-VOTE), the Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline (800-253-3931), or an attorney
  • Volunteer at your next local election poll and advocate on behalf of other voters for equitable treatment

For more information and additional advocacy tips: