This Comment focuses on the convergence of racialized policing and voter suppression of communities of color. While much attention has been given to the disenfranchisement of people upon felony conviction, there has been little attention paid to the policing and subsequent prosecution of people—disproportionately Black and Latinx—for voting or registering to vote. These prosecutions function to target individuals, often more politically active ones, and to create a specter of policing and punishment over communities of color. The intersection of the electoral and criminal legal systems means that impacted people are both excluded from the electorate and become further excluded from society as a whole through incarceration, disenfranchisement, and other punishments.
This Comment provides the first historical background on the policing and prosecutions of people for voting, registering to vote, or engaging in activities to expand enfranchisement as part of the backlash to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. This form of policing and prosecution remains in full force today as we experience another era of voting-rights retrenchment. The justification provided, voter fraud, is a myth and a product of dog whistle politics. People are convicted under voting-related criminal statutes that are disconnected from the moral underpinnings of our criminal legal system and, because of the retrenchment politics within our courts, constitutional defenses previously available have been winnowed away. This Comment considers two paths forward: legislative reform and abolition democracy. The first path, legislative reform, accepts an electoral system structured to exclude people and considers expanded enfranchisement. The second path rejects the current regime defined by centuries of expanding and contracting enfranchisement in a system whose boundaries are defined by whiteness; this path demands a radical departure in how we construct the body politic of the United States.
Ultimately, it is past time that those concerned with racialized, violent policing and separately concerned with voter suppression of communities of color come to understand the intersection of these systems and their shared goal of maintaining the racial hierarchy.