Voter suppression: A conversation with directors Dawn Porter and Liz Garbus

Voting is an American tradition, but so is preventing people from voting. As part of our voting rights countdown to the election, 30 Days Till Tomorrow, The Meteor held a socially-distanced outdoor watch party for the VP Debate at the Queens Drive-In in New York City together with Rooftop Films.

The event featured a conversation about voting rights in America with two directors who’ve spent years diving into the issue—Liz Garbus (“All in: The Fight for Democracy,” co-directed by Lisa Cortés) and Dawn Porter, a founding member of The Meteor (“John Lewis: Good Trouble”).

“Voter Suppression: Then and Now,” moderated by Rebecca Carroll of WNYC (host of “Come Through” and also a Meteor founding member), explains some of the ways citizens have been robbed of their right to vote in the past—and still are today.

Watch the extended cut of their conversation

Creative Producer: Marjan Tehrani • Editors: Ellen Callaghan and Sophie Geidt • Music: Emily Wells

“When we look at the course of our history, we see these expansions of the franchise and contractions, like a roller coaster,” Liz Garbus explains, highlighting as one example the Mississippi Plan of 1890—enacted after 67% of Black voters participated in elections—which required would-be voters to both read and interpret the Constitution.

Voter disenfranchisement is still going on today, Garbus continues. “When you look at the kind of ID laws that are enacted in various states, they have a disproportionate effect on poor people, young people, people of color,” she explains. “Texas is a great example. You can vote with your gun license—that’s an acceptable ID—but your student ID or your public housing ID is not. So if you’re really worrying about voter fraud, then why wouldn’t you allow all those IDs in play? No—because it’s about race and it’s about power.”

Compounding the problem, both directors agreed, are recent changes to voter legislation, in particular, the 2013 Supreme Court legislation of Shelby County vs. Holder, which allowed voting jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to escape federal oversight.

“Until the Shelby decision, it was really important a fair justice department had the ability to review changes to voting laws,” explains Porter. “That was the ‘pre-clearance” provision of the federal voting laws. And when that was struck down, that is when you see this flood of efforts.”

Changes to voting laws resulted in many people not being able to vote in 2016. “You saw all this dialogue in 2016 about Black and brown voters not showing up for Hillary Clinton, but nobody was talking about Shelby County. Nobody was talking about all the poll closures. Nobody was talking about the fact that different IDs were required in the state since 2013,” says Garbus. “Something really big had happened in between 2012 and 2016 and that is one of the reasons these films are important is giving you that broad view of that expansion and contraction of the franchise.”

Make a difference right now

Alarmed? You should be. Angry? Also correct. Determined? One hundred percent. Let’s all go reclaim what’s ours.​ To support all Americans’ right to vote, go to Fair Fight where you can sign up to text bank, help document voter experiences or, if you’re able, donate.​

Learn more

Watch “John Lewis: Good Trouble” produced and directed by Dawn Porter about the life of legendary Congressman John Lewis.

Watch “All in: The Fight for Democracy” directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés about the life and work of voting rights advocate and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.