Voter suppression

Voters at voting booths in the United States in 1945
Voters lining up outside a Baghdad polling station during the 2005 Iraqi election. Voter turnout was considered high despite widespread concerns of violence.

Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from voting. It is distinguished from political campaigning in that campaigning attempts to change likely voting behavior by changing the opinions of potential voters through persuasion and organization. Voter suppression, instead, attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a candidate or proposition.

The tactics of voter suppression range from minor changes to make voting less convenient, to physically intimidating prospective voters, which is illegal. Voter suppression can be effective if a significant amount of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised.[1]



In Australia, it is mandatory for citizens to enroll to vote and it is their responsibility to update their enrollment when they change their address. Even so, it is estimated that about 6% of eligible Australian voters are not enrolled, or are enrolled incorrectly. These are disproportionately younger voters, many of whom might neglect to enroll when they attain voting age.

In 2006, the Howard Government legislated to close the electoral roll much earlier once an election was called. While previously, voters had been allowed seven days of grace after an election had been called to arrange or update their enrollment, new voters were now allowed only until 8:00 pm on the day that the electoral writ was issued to lodge their enrollment form, while those who needed to update their addresses were allowed three days. In Australia, the Prime Minister effectively has the right to determine the date of the election, so long as constitutional rules regarding the maximum term of the parliament are adhered to. This measure was therefore likely to result in many newer voters being precluded from voting in the first election for which they were eligible because the time to arrange their enrollment once an election is called had been greatly reduced.

The measure was widely seen as an attempt at voter suppression aimed at younger voters,[2] who surveys had shown are more likely than the general population to vote for the then opposition, the Australian Labor Party, or the Greens.[3] The Government denied that they were trying to suppress some voters, insisting that the purpose of the reform was to smooth the administration of elections and to reduce the possibility of electoral fraud. This was in spite of the fact that the Australian Electoral Commission had requested no such reform, there was no evidence of significant electoral fraud and that the Australian Electoral Commission had been dealing with hundreds of thousands of late enrollments without significant problems for decades.

In July 2010, the left-leaning lobby group GetUp! launched a challenge to this law. The High Court of Australia expedited the hearing so that a ruling could be made in time for the 2010 Federal Election. The majority ruling struck down early closing of the roll, reinstating the old rule allowing voters seven days grace to arrange or update their enrollment.

Australian citizens of the ages 16 or 17 can enroll online[4] so that when they turn 18 they are able to vote.


Shortly before the Canadian 2011 Federal Election, vote suppression tactics were exercised by issuing robocalls and live calls to notify voters that their polling station had changed. The locations offered by these messages were intentionally false, often to lead voters several hours from the correct stations, and often identified themselves illegally as coming from Elections Canada.[5]

In litigation brought by The Council of Canadians, a federal court found that such fraud had occurred and had probably been perpetrated by someone with access to the Conservative Party's voter database, including its information about voter preferences.[6] The court stated that the evidence did not prove that the Conservative Party or its successful candidates were directly involved.[6] It did, however, criticize the Conservative Party for making “little effort to assist with the investigation”.[6] The court did not annul the result in any of six ridings where the fraud had occurred, because it concluded that the number of votes affected had been too small to affect the outcome.[6]

United Kingdom

Lutfur Rahman was the directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, in London until he was removed from office for breaching electoral rules.[7] His supporters allegedly intimidated voters at polling stations.[8]

United States

Because elections are locally administered in the United States, voter suppression varies among jurisdictions. At the founding of the country, most states limited the right to vote to property-owning white males. Over time, the right to vote was formally granted to racial minorities, women, and youth. During the later 19th and early 20th centuries, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws to suppress poor and racial minority voters – such laws included poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. Most of these voter suppression tactics were made illegal after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

See also


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