In the past several years there has been an organized effort to deprive Americans of their right to vote. This effort has included making it hard to register and also making it hard to vote. Since the heart of the Voting Rights Act was dismantled in June, those efforts have intensified. The Voting Rights Act included strong federal oversight of elections in states and cities with a history of disenfranchising black voters. It has long been considered the most successful civil rights law ever passed. But the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder struck down Section 4 of the Act, which set out a formula to determine which states must receive clearance from the Justice Department before enacting changes to their voting procedures. These restrictions, requiring pre-clearance, were removed.
Less than 48 hours after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a statement that redistricting maps approved by the legislature may take effect without approval from the federal government. He also said the state’s voter ID law will take effect “immediately.” Five other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia – announced plans to immediately move ahead with voter ID laws. There are now at least 34 states that have adopted voter ID laws.
In August, North Carolina’s legislature passed what election-law experts called “the most draconian and restrictive registration and voting law in the country.” It includes not just photo ID requirements for voting, but also eliminates same-day voter registration, requires voters to register or update their address at least 25 days prior to the election, reduces the early voting period by a week, abolishes a program to register high-school students to vote just ahead of their 18th birthdays, eliminates out-of-precinct voting and gives partisan poll workers more authority to challenge voters. It also eliminates the requirement for political candidates to endorse their own television ads.
Republicans have pushed for voter ID and related laws, claiming they are necessary to help prevent voter fraud. But detractors of these laws, including many Democrats, say the real intent of voter ID laws is to suppress voting, particularly among groups that have traditionally supported Democrats, such as African-American and Latino voters. Additionally, voter ID laws make it more difficult for the elderly, young, poor and disabled persons to vote.
Folks who live in areas where most people have a driver’s license often have a hard time understanding the problem with voter ID laws. But photo ID laws single out younger people like college students, urban residents, the poor and the elderly. For example, a person who doesn’t have a car most likely won’t have a driver’s license. For many of these people, the process of trying to obtain a valid photo ID can also be expensive, time-consuming and physically challenging, discouraging them from trying, and thereby discouraging them from voting.
Voter ID laws are particularly challenging for many elderly people, who may not be able to obtain “proper” birth certificates. They may have been born at home, instead of in a hospital, and were never issued a birth certificate. For children of immigrants, ethnic names resulted in frequent errors on birth certificates. In Pennsylvania, which has a voter ID law as well as one of the highest percentages of elderly residents in the United States, such complaints led the state to dispense with the need for birth certificates to obtain non-driver photo IDs.
In Texas, which was among the first to jump on the Voter ID bandwagon following the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, a November election exposed the flaws with such laws. Voters turned up at the polls with their IDs, and records did not match up. It turned out that some people use nicknames, and women often change their names. Texans with what a writer for The Economist dubbed “accidental aliases” were required to sign affidavits swearing they were who they said they were. Among those who had to sign an affidavit was none other than Texas Attorney General Gregory Wayne Abbot, who goes by “Greg.”
Problems with Voter ID laws and other restrictive voting regulations since the Supreme Court decision have prompted the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder to file legal challenges against some of the practices, using remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act. The Attorney General says the DOJ will still intervene in cases where it sees or suspects civil- and voting-rights abuses.
The right to vote is a fundamental right, giving we the people the ability to hire and fire the leaders of our communities, states and nation. These elected officials are supposed to represent the people and be responsible to their needs. The ballot box gives us the ability to send a message to leaders who promote their own agenda ahead of the public agenda. We should have the right to vote in an effort to replace an elected official who ignores the public. Poll taxes, literacy requirements, voter ID laws are tactics that have been used to restrict voting rights, particularly among certain populations. This is exactly the opposite of what we in this country should be trying to do and that’s to expand access to voting to every American Citizen. We should encourage every person to vote and never should we allow that right to be taken away. Neither should we allow any political party to make it unduly hard to vote in any given election.
Sources: ACLU.org, The Atlantic, Voting Rights Institute, The Economist, News & Observer, Christian Science Monitor
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