Asking Voters About Race: Helpful Tool Or Roadmap For Suppression


Georgia is one of only eight states in the country where people are asked their race or ethnicity on voter registration forms. The other states are: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Most of these states have a documented history of voter suppression, and several, including Georgia, are the setting for tight races in the upcoming elections with impacts ranging from the balance of power in Congress to the mapping of congressional districts in the coming years.  

But why is this done, and when did it begin? Is it a good thing to know the races and ethnicities of voters, or can election officials and lawmakers use this information to suppress racial and ethnic minorities? And, should residents of these states be required to supply their race or ethnicity to be registered to vote — or is that requirement unconstitutional?

This would appear to violate the National Voter Registration Act, Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, told WhoWhatWhy. “Part of [the Act] says that omissions on voter registration forms that are not material should not be reason for rejection,” she said. “For sure, suggesting that [people are] required to fill out this question is unlawful.”

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