In Ireland, there can be a short wait to vote during the "tea-time" rush on Election Day. Those minutes are nothing compared to the hours some voters face in the United States.

With a charged political climate and voters wanting to avoid large crowds on election day due to the pandemic, we have seen images and videos from across the US of people in long queues waiting to vote.

While some say these scenes show voters’ enthusiasm to vote, others say it has highlighted some of the barriers Americans face if they want to head to the polls.

Voting rights' organisations argue delays at early voting sites, limited ballot drop boxes and strict voting laws are voter suppression tactics which are disenfranchising people from exercising their right to vote.

US presidential election turnout can be considered low for a Western democracy. In 2016, 56% of people turned out. Compare that with 87% in Sweden’s 2018 general election and 65% in Ireland’s election in 2016.

Voter suppression is nothing new. When the United States was established, voting was restricted initially to wealthy landowners but has been opened up to women and African Americans over the decades.

However, there were efforts to suppress these new rights. Poll taxes, literacy tests and violence directed towards black people deterred minority groups from voting in the early to mid 20th century.

For instance in Mississippi, some voters were asked to take a "soap bubble test". It required the test taker to correctly guess the number of bubbles in a bar of soap in order to vote.

After mass protests the 1965, the Voting Rights Act barred these tactics to ensure that no citizen would be denied the right to vote. States, in mostly southern areas, had to get federal pre-clearance before making changes to its voting systems and infrastructure.

However in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that it was no longer necessary to enforce it, meaning there would be little oversight by the federal government if state officials and legislators wanted to change their election rules.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described the decision as throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.

Rachel Homer from Protect Democracy, a non-partisan NGO which fights against voter suppression, said that the voting process has weakened since new rules and regulations were implemented.

Seven years after that Supreme Court decision, here are some of the voter suppression issues which have emerged in 2020.

Early voting

A voter enters an early voting polling location in Texas

Early voting is under way in all 50 states, plus Washington DC, and already turnout has far surpassed what has come before.

Hours-long wait queues have emerged in Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio.

Most state officials say it is a time consuming process due to an eagerness to avoid the polls on election day because of Covid-19. Critics say there is more at play.

In Columbus, Ohio, long lines stretching for a quarter of a mile did not come as a surprise for voters.

In 2006, a Republican controlled legislature passed a state law that limited the number of in-person early voting sites to just one per county. This resulted in urban areas, where there are more Democrats living, getting the same number of early voting sites as urban communities.

While state officials say the long lines in Georgia are down to voter enthusiasm - a limited number of polls, understaffing and technical glitches are all factors fuelling allegations of voter suppression especially in minority communities.

Using data compiled by Georgia Public Broadcasting and investigative journalism group ProPublica, Stanford political scientist, Jonathan Rodden, found that polling places where more than 90% of active registered voters were minorities, the average minimum waiting time was 51 minutes. Whereas in areas here more than 90% of active registered voters were white, the average was six minutes.

Ballot boxes

Ballot drop boxes, where voters can submit their filled out ballot instead of posting them, are posing another issue during this election.

In Ohio and Texas, Republicans have limited the number of drop boxes to just one per county - meaning both rural and urban locations have the same number of drop boxes.

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott said it is to guard against possible voter fraud but voting rights' groups and Democrats complain that this is voter suppression.

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott

Voter ID

When voters arrive at a polling station or apply for an absentee ballot, they may need to prove who they are.

Strict voter ID laws are often defended to uphold election integrity.

The Brennan Centre for Justice said that those defenders claim that voter ID laws are needed to "combat voter impersonation fraud... but study after study has shown that voter impersonation fraud is vanishingly rare".

It continued: "Many also claim that these laws impose little burden because everyone has the requisite ID but the reality is that millions of Americans don’t, and they are disproportionately people of colour."

In North Dakota, for example, a federal court found that when the state enacted its current ID law in 2017, almost a fifth of Native Americans lacked qualifying IDs compared to less than 12% of other potential voters.

Voter ID problems is a "classic example" of voter suppression tactics, according to legal analyst and law professor, Kimberly Wehle.

She points to Texas, where a student cannot use their university of Texas ID to vote but someone who has a concealed gun permit can.

"That’s an example that some would say is a political manoeuvre to keep potentially more progressive university students from the polls and make it harder for them to vote," she added.

Voter purging

Alarm was raised in 2019 when over 17 million Americans were removed from voter rolls in two years.

The Brennan Centre for Justice said that US election jurisdictions with histories of "egregious voter discrimination" were purging voter rolls at a rate 40% beyond the national average.

Voter purges in other states declined slowly, it said, but areas which were released from federal oversight by the 2013 supreme court ruling had purging rates 'significantly higher' than other jurisdictions.

According to federal law, authorities can up clean voter registration rolls to remove the names of those who have died or voters who have moved.

However Kimberly Wehle argues that it is sometimes done in way that disenfranchises people from voting by aggressively removing them from the register.

For instance many ballots require a signature which should match a previous signature on a government document.

"Many of us might change our signature of the years. It might look very differently than it did 20 years ago and that might be a method of disenfranchising someone [by] taking them of the voter roll without their knowledge" she said.

The Brennan Centre warned ahead of the 2020 election that administrators should take steps to ensure that every eligible American can cast a ballot next November because "election day is often too late to discover that a person has been wrongfully purged."


Gerrymandering is also considered to be another form of voter suppression.

This is dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage.

Critics say it dilutes the vote or makes it hyper-concentrated, creating a dilution in other places.

Naked ballots

When voting by mail, some states require voters to use two envelopes when sending their ballots for what they say are security reasons.

There is one envelope for the ballot and then that envelope is put into what’s called a ‘secrecy envelope’.

However, ballots which only have the first envelope are called "naked ballots". If naked ballots arrive for the election count without the secrecy envelope, they are thrown out.

In September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that naked ballots violate the law.


A felon registers to vote following a special court hearing aimed at restoring the right to vote in Florida

US states have different rules and regulations about whether or not convicted felons can vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues there is a "patchwork of state felony disfranchisement laws, varying in severity from state to state". It says almost 6 million Americans with felony convictions are prevented from voting.

Voting rights may be restored if a sentence is served. Others may have to wait until probation or parole is served.

There have been moves in some states to restore votes. A referendum in Florida in 2018 granted 1.4 million former felons in the state a vote.

However in the Republican state legislature, new laws were passed requiring former felons to pay off any debts before they could vote. Voting rights organisations point out that many cannot afford to pay.

Mail-in ballots

Litigation has been taking place in a number of states in relation to when mail-in ballots can be counted.

Pennsylvania is seen as a key swing state in Election 2020. In 2016, Donald Trump won the state by just over 44,000 votes. Here, every vote counts.

The local Democratic Party in Pennsylvania earlier this year sued to change election procedures in the state.

They argued for an extension to the deadlines for mail-in ballots to be counted. Republicans opposed this.

The US Supreme Court ruled in October that Pennsylvania is allowed to count ballots received up to three days after the election - meaning thousands of more votes may now be counted in this crucial state.

Foreign Interference

This week US intelligence officials warned that Iran and Russia had tried to interfere in the US election after obtaining voter information.

US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe warned that the data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine confidence in American democracy.

He said that authorities have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters and incite social unrest.

Russia described the claims as "absolutely groundless". Iran denied the allegations.

David Levine, Election Integrity Fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, said that in the run up to 2016 election, Russia tried to disenfranchise African Americans from voting. A Senate inquiry in 2019 concluded that a Russian fake-news campaign targeted "no single group... more than African-Americans."

It says Russian operatives used social media to deter black people from voting and planted subtly racist content to incite conflict between ethnicities.