11 Barriers to Voting

Legislators in states that have a long track record of voter suppression often implement laws and engage in activities that make it harder for certain segments of the population to vote. Here are some of the most common ways voting rights are undermined across the country.

Voter ID requirements. Election officials use false claims of rampant voter fraud to justify strict requirements like a photo ID, often aimed at suppressing the votes of people of color and younger voters. Laws requiring a physical street address discriminate against groups that are more likely to have P.O. Box addresses, such as Native Americans living on reservations.

Lack of language access. The English-language requirements of the past may be gone, but voting rights groups regularly receive reports that local jurisdictions are not translating materials or offering language assistance as required by law, proving a persistent barrier to increased voting among language minorities in the Asian American and Latino communities.

Voter roll purges. Under the guise of reviewing voter rolls to remove duplicate names, the names of deceased individuals, or those with standing felony convictions, officials have undertaken indiscriminate “purges” of voter lists in recent years, deleting millions of eligible voters’ names, often with a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Polling place closures/consolidations. A recent USA Today analysis found that election officials have closed thousands of polling places, largely affecting communities of color. For example, in Chicago’s Cook County, which has the largest non-Hispanic black population in the country, election administrators closed or moved 95 polling places.

Lack of funding for elections. A lack of funding inhibits the ability of localities to manage elections that ensure everyone’s vote counts equally. Some of these problems came to the fore during the 2000 presidential election in Florida, where the recount process shined a spotlight on issues ranging from flawed ballot designs to voting machines that overheated and failed.

Provisional ballot requirements. Federal law allows voters whose eligibility is in question to use a provisional ballot to be counted once the voter is confirmed eligible. However, localities set their own rules in how many provisional ballots to print and training poll workers on processing them, resulting in eligible voters being turned away or their ballots discounted.

Reduced early voting. States and localities have long used early voting to reduce Election Day crunch and open up the process to prospective voters bound by work or other commitments. Faith-based groups have also used early voting for nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts. Recently, officials across the nation have curtailed early voting, largely hitting communities of color.

Reduced voting hours. Like limiting early voting, reducing voting hours can make voting less convenient, and even impossible, for many voters. Low-income and working-class people often have less freedom to arrive late or leave early from work, or to take a break from their shifts in the middle of the day. Parents with inflexible childcare arrangements can be similarly impacted.

Poorly trained poll workers. Poll workers need good training to follow the right policies like properly checking IDs, giving language assistance, identifying voter intimidation, and offering provisional ballots. Yet a lack of funding, coupled with a lack of commitment to making voting welcoming and convenient, means poll workers are poorly equipped to do their jobs.

Partisan election administrators. Our country’s highly decentralized election system hands the responsibility for managing elections to state and local administrators, some of them partisan officials with a clear interest in election outcomes favorable to their parties and candidates. Too often, this results in efforts to suppress the votes of groups that might be viewed as opponents.

Creation of at-large local offices to dilute minority vote. An at-large election covers voters across a city or county, in contrast to smaller district elections, which can often result in higher representation for people of color since votes are not diluted by an area-wide population. As a result, some officials create at-large districts to limit the influence of minority communities.


Interested in American voting rights?

Learn more about tools that protect eligible voters and also how philanthropy can play a role by downloading the full Carnegie Corporation report.