Eric Holder is Absolutely Correct: The Right to Vote is Under Siege
At the Democratic Convention on Tuesday night, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — the first African American in history to hold that position — made a bold, harrowing statement about the state of voting rights in the United States. Everything he said was true.
“Finally, at a time when the right to vote is under siege — when Republicans brazenly assault the most fundamental right of our democracy — passing laws designed to stop people from voting, while closing locations in minority neighborhoods where people get the documents they need to vote — we need a president sensitive to these echoes of Jim Crow. We need a president who holds the right to vote as sacred and stands firm against any kind of modern-day poll tax.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, states and jurisdictions no longer under federal oversight pushed through laws that have increased barriers to voting — barriers that disproportionately impact people of color, students, low-income people, and language minorities. Using Holder’s words, here’s a breakdown of recent voting discrimination in those formerly covered states:
1. The right to vote is under siege.
Virginia. In 2012, Virginia passed a voter ID law that was approved by the Department of Justice (DOJ). But after Shelby, the state legislature made the law significantly stricter, and it was implemented without additional DOJ review. Although about 200,000 voters lack a driver’s license in the state, a federal judge upheld the law in May.
2. Republicans are brazenly assaulting the most fundamental right of our democracy.
North Carolina. Just weeks after the Shelby decision, North Carolina passed a monster voter suppression law that cut early voting by a week, eliminated same-day registration, stopped the counting of out-of-precinct ballots, required photo voter ID, and ended pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. A federal judge upheld the law in April, and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on it soon.
3. Laws are being passed to stop people from voting.
South Carolina. DOJ blocked a voter ID law in South Carolina in 2012, but approved it after the state agreed that voters could sign an affidavit if they lacked an ID — an important improvement given 178,000 registered voters lack a DMV-issued ID. For this year’s primary, however, officials in the state confused voters about what was really required — as explained here.
4. Places to get the documents needed to vote have threatened to close in minority neighborhoods.
Alabama. Last fall, Alabama proposed closing DMV offices in every single county in which African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters, with no similar proposal for DMV offices in other counties. Following backlash and legal threats, Governor Robert Bentley said he would re-open the offices — but just for one day a month. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit against the state, and the U.S. Department of Transportation launched an investigation.
5. Modern-day poll taxes are real.
Texas. In October 2014, District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, in a decision striking down the state’s restrictive voter ID law, wrote that the Texas law, implemented immediately after Shelby, “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.” Four federal courts have now ruled that the state’s law violates the VRA because it discriminates against Black and Latino voters, although Ramos’s ruling that it was intentionally discriminatory is still under consideration after a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court last week.
And there are plenty of other examples. Arizona, Florida, and Georgia — all competitive states in this year’s election — are no longer covered by Section 5 of the VRA. As a report we recently released notes, voter suppression unleashed in these states and others after the Shelby decision could determine the 2016 election. Holder’s statement Tuesday night may have sounded ominous, but that’s because voting discrimination — still persistent more than 50 years after the VRA — is precisely that.