voter suppression

  • April 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    North Carolina, which last year voted to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriages even though it already had a law doing that, is now on the verge on enacting one of the nation’s more onerous voter ID laws. 

    Late last week the N.C. House easily approved the so-called Voter Information Verification Act that would require people to present government-issued voter photo IDs before casting ballots. It is expected to pass the Senate and the State’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory has signaled he’ll sign it into law. Brentin Mock reporting for ColorLines noted that last week’s vote in the lower chamber drew throngs of N.C. university students to protest the new law.  The measure would make it arduous for the state’s colleges and university students to engage in democracy. And other measures being considered, as Mock reports, are also aimed at making voting burdensome, such as limiting early voting and prohibiting all early voting on Sundays.

    The Brennan Center’s Lucy Zhou in an April 25 post about the ongoing state efforts to place more burdens on voting described N.C. as a “hotbed of restrictive voting bills” and listed the array of measures the state is moving to implement. Zhou notes that North Carolina lawmakers are striving to undercut the state constitutional rights of students to vote at their college addresses, by penalizing parents. If students register to vote under a different address, like their university address, parents will be barred from “listing their children as dependents on state tax forms ….”

    State Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) in a column for The Charlotte Observer called the photo ID bill “common-sense” and likened it to showing a photo ID to board an airplane. The problem with this type of argument is that it misses a fairly significant point. Voting is integral to democracy and indeed is protected in numerous places in the U.S. Constitution. But what about air travel and purchasing cocktails or even certain kinds of decongestants, which also require identification. Those actions may be vital to the pursuit of happiness, but not all are constitutionally protected rights, and certainly not as integral to democracy as voting.

    Tillis claims “fringe elements have relied on heated rhetoric to frame this issue ….”

    There is, however, nothing radical, over-the-top, or wild-eyed about noting the fact that North Carolina lawmakers are not able to point to any in-person voter fraud that has occurred in their state. Instead it is Tillis and his cohorts who are misinforming the public by claiming the integrity of the vote needs to be protected, while offering not a shred of evidence as to when that integrity was compromised.

  • February 25, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Edward A. Hailes, Jr. is Managing Director and General Counsel for Advancement Project. He formerly served as the General Counsel for the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights where he directed its investigation into voting irregularities in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.

    In 2006, the United States Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 putting certain jurisdictions under the microscope once again to determine whether those jurisdictions were fully cured from the infection of past and present discriminatory voting practices. These ugly practices prevented and continue to prevent ordinary citizens of color from having equal access in our democracy. Congress conducted similar examinations in 1970, 1975, and 1982, each time determining, on a bipartisan basis that protecting the rights of voters in these jurisdictions required ongoing scrutiny and action.

    The 2006 examination was particularly extensive and illuminating. The record of review entailed 15,000 pages and testimony from more than 50 witnesses who examined the body of evidence from both sides of the issue. Based on this thorough, objective review, Congress concluded that, despite progress toward achieving political equality for minority voters in the covered jurisdictions, “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th Amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.”  Congress also found that without continuation of Section 5 [which is the very heart of the Voting Rights Act] voters of color “will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted, undermining the significant gains made by minorities in the last 40 years.”

  • February 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    One of the themes running through our blog symposium on the constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act’s integral enforcement provision, Section 5, centers on the fallacious claim that racial discrimination in voting has largely been eradicated so it’s time to significantly scale back one of the nation’s greatest civil rights laws.

    For example, West Virginia University College of Law Professor Atiba Ellis writes that it’s an “appealing” but false premise that racial discrimination is a “relic. Or as New York Law School Professor Deborah Archer notes in her post, the Voting Rights Act has helped stop very recent attempts in the states and towns covered by Section 5, mostly in the South, to implement schemes to suppress the minority vote. Archer concluded by citing Civil Rights hero U.S. Congressman John Lewis who has warned that history teaches us that “popular rights and democratic rights can be reversed ….”

    Rep. Lewis (D-Ga.) in a Feb. 24 column for The Washington Post provides some context of his involvement in “Bloody Sunday,” where he and many other peaceful protesters were brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers. The marchers from Selma to Montgomery, Lewis noted, were taking action to highlight the need for voting rights protections in the state. The brutish actions of Alabama officers against the protesters certainly helped grab the nation’s attention and not long thereafter President Lyndon Johnson pushed for a voting rights measure, which would eventually become law.

    Lewis (pictured) says it is fantastical to believe that all is well in the jurisdictions covered by Section 5. (Those jurisdictions must get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. for any changes to their voting laws and procedures. See the ACS Voting Rights Resource Page, for more information about the law and the case challenging it, Shelby County v. Holder.)

  • February 25, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Deborah N. Archer, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, New York Law School. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.

    No law has been more critical in advancing voting rights for all Americans than the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When Congress first enacted the Voting Rights Act, it concluded that case-by-case litigation had been wholly ineffective in guaranteeing African-Americans the right to vote and that nothing short of a prophylactic remedial scheme would succeed in eradicating the “insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country.” (South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 309 (1966).) The heart of the Voting Rights Act – the strong medicine that has done so much to protect the voting rights acts of people of color – is Section 5, which prohibits covered jurisdictions from implementing new voting standards, practices or procedures unless the proposed change has been “pre-cleared” by the Department of Justice or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (42 U.S.C. §1973(c)(a)) The law places the burden on those covered jurisdictions to prove that any proposed changes will not limit minority voting rights.

    From the moment Section 5 was first enacted, jurisdictions that fell within its purview depicted the legislation as an illegitimate intrusion by an all-powerful federal government on state and local sovereignty. In Shelby County v. Holder, Shelby County insists that the Act’s pre-clearance provisions are no longer neededbecause the Act has succeeded in doing so much good, and that covered jurisdictions now should be relieved from the “burdens” of pre-clearance. Never mind that as recently as 2008 Shelby County itself was found to have engaged in racially discriminatory conduct. The truth is that across the country, states, cities and counties continue to enact practices and procedures that suppress, dilute, and infringe upon minorities’ constitutional right to vote. The harms that Section 5 was designed to counter remain, making the law as critical as it has ever been.


  • December 19, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The 2010 elections highlighted the strident efforts of some state lawmakers to make it much more difficult for people to vote, especially for minorities, low-income people, the elderly and college students. Texas, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among the states that created and tried to implement voting laws requiring strict voter IDs, limiting early voting times and hampering voter registration drives.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee today conducted a hearing on the state of voting rights after the elections and against the backdrop of another challenge to an integral enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Beyond bringing stories of what the new restrictive measures wrought, several witnesses provided passionate defenses of the importance of the landmark civil rights law.

    Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine states, many in the South, and counties and other localities across the country to obtain “preclearance” of changes to their voting laws from a federal court in Washington, D.C. or the Department of Justice. The states and localities required to win preclearance are those with long histories of suppressing the vote of minorities. (Shelby County, Ala., officials in a case the Supreme Court will hear this term argue that racial discrimination in voting is a thing of the past and should be invalidated. Like several of the Judiciary Committee witnesses, many argue that Sec. 5 is the heart of the Voting Rights Act and works to block discrimination before it occurs.)

    Five counties in Florida are covered by the Voting Rights Act. Charles Crist, former governor or Florida, testifying today before the Judiciary Committee, said the last few years in the state have not “been so forward thinking.”