Voting Rights Act: a Last Defense Against Voter Suppression

An important case has attracted attention recently. It is about voting rights.

I will never understand why this is seen as a partisan issue, specifically why Republicans make it a partisan issue. If Democrats (or any other party) sought to suppress Republican voters (or any group of voters), if they sought to disenfranchise Southern whites, conservatives and fundamentalists, I’d be as strong of a critic of this practice as when Republicans have done the same in recent elections.

Why do Republicans, conservatives and libertarians lack principles about democracy? Or refuse to apply their principles in principled fashion? What do they fear about democracy? Why do they do to others as they would never accept others doing unto them? If their principles don’t include democracy and the constitution, what do they represent?

Here is one article making clear the issues at hand.

Millions Of Voters Of Color Will Be Affected By The Supreme Court’s Shelby Decision

As the nation awaits a decision in the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, the future of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act hangs in the balance. The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

As the repeal has become official, let’s ponder the consequences. The reason the Voting Rights Act was passed in the first place was because certain states were practicing legal oppression of citizens and suppression of their voting rights.

Consider this in terms of the criminal system. With the Voting Rights Act, certain states were in a sense put into prison with the hopes of rehabilitation and one day release into normal life.Replace the crime of unconstitutional and anti-democratic political action. Replace it with some more mundane crime against one’s fellow citizens, let’s say: theft, murder or rape.

The criminal is caught, charged, given a trial, and imprisoned. After many years, the prisoner appeals for release. Would the appeal committee release the prisoner without looking at his record of behavior while in prison? One would hope not. If the thief, murderer or rapist had had stolen, murdered or raped while in prison, should he be released simply because he had been in prison for decades? Of course not.

Now, let’s analyze the original crime that caused these states to have this law enforced upon them. Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, have these states committed these crimes again? Have they committed these crimes recently? Yes and yes. Have they been rehabilitated? Should they be released because of good behavior? No and no.

So, what is Section 5 all about and how does it specifically relate to recent political issues?

The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

A new report, to be released next month by Advancement Project and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, comprehensively analyzes that experience for the first time, and recommends election reforms to ensure the ballot remains free, fair and accessible for all. (See a five-page summary with key data from the report here.) Entitled Lining Up: Equal Access to the Right to Vote, the report highlights the determined efforts of the two civil rights organizations, from the courtroom to the streets, to combat voter ID laws, challenges at the polls, deception and intimidation, proof-of-citizenship registration practices, unacceptably long lines, and the improper use of provisional ballots.

The report also tells the story through testimonials from African-American and Latino citizens who were impacted by – and stood up to – voter suppression laws and policies. Collectively, this illustrates the continued need for federal laws, such as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, protecting the right to vote. In addition, the report explores the critical role of Section 5 in blocking legislative assaults on voting, and the continued voting problems in states covered by the provision. Findings include:

  • In states covered by Section 5 in the 2012 elections, more than 22.9 million Black, Latino and Asian-American voters were able to cast a ballot.
  • Laws that shortened early voting periods in 2012 contributed to long lines in some locations, which voters of color faced more. Black and Latino voters were reportedly two to three times more likely than whites to wait longer than 30 minutes to vote.
  • In 2013, 11 of the 15 states that are either fully or partially covered by Section 5’s protections – more than 73 percent – have introduced restrictive voting bills.

 

“While African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters came out in historic numbers in 2012, those numbers were possible only after voter protection organizations, community groups and voters themselves, who fought tirelessly to defeat restrictive laws across the country and other attempts to suppress voters of color,” said Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney and Director of Voter Protection for Advancement Project. “Without the intervention of the Justice Department through Section 5, the impact of these assaults on democracy would have been far worse.”

Push to overturn Voting Rights Act tied to GOP voter suppression efforts
Zachary Roth
MSNBC

In 2012, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted caused an outcry when he ended early voting in the three days before Election Day for everyone except members of the military. The change would have made it harder for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans—disproportionately African-Americans—to vote. As Rachel Maddow and MSNBC.com noted at the time, Husted brought in Consovoy to defend the move in court, after it was challenged by the Obama campaign. Ultimately, the court required that the early voting days be restored.

Also last year, Florida Republicans passed a law that cut back on the state’s early voting days. Among other changes under the new system, polls would have to be closed on the Sunday before the election—a day when many black churches help get their members to the polls right after services. The Justice Department blocked the law. As The Nation‘s Ari Berman recently noted, Wiley Rein was brought in by Florida to argue the case in court. Consovoy claimed that reducing early voting was necessary to combat voter fraud—though there’s almost no evidence of significant fraud occurring. The early voting days were ultimately restored, though long lines nonetheless plagued both early and Election Day voters in the Sunshine State.

To block Florida’s early voting cutbacks, the Justice Department cited Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows the federal government to stop any election changes in most southern states if they’re deemed to reduce minority voting power. It’s Section 5 that’s at issue in the Shelby County case that goes before the Supreme Court this week, and voting-rights advocates have held up the Florida case as an example of why the provision is still needed.

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