Our Democracy is at Stake

It is October, folks, and there are only a few more days left to register to vote. October 24th is the deadline in California, but other states may have different dates. “I’m registered,” you say, “and so are all my friends and neighbors, so what more do you want me to do?”

What about your friends and family in another state, especially if you have friends and family in one of the 15 states that have recently instituted some form of voter suppression? By the way, they include Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Think about it, your right to vote, your right to participate in the very governance of your country may be stopped! Why?

Perhaps because you have not yet gone to get that special license that says you are a “licensed to vote” as Alabama requires, or checked to see that your name has not been purged from the voter rolls, as has happened to people in several states, including Florida. We are lucky in California, as we have a Secretary of State who has worked hard to ensure more people than ever have the right and opportunity to vote.

Unfortunately, Voter Suppression is alive and active in some parts of the country because the Voting Right Act was gutted by the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision in July of 2013. In Shelby County v. Holder, Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito, determined that Section 5 and Section 4b, which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting, was unconstitutional. Basically, the majority of Justices believe that having a look-back period as long ago as 1965 imposed burdens that were no longer responsive to current conditions in the voting districts in question.

Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, in states that had been required to obtain “preclearance” in order to make voting rights changes, districts quickly enacted laws that made it more difficult for many to vote, especially people of color. Even states that had not previously hampered voting enacted new restrictions. For example, students in Wisconsin discovered that their Student ID cards were insufficient identification to be able to vote.

What is so disturbing is that Congress has refused to do anything about fixing the Voting Rights Act! Why? Because race and politics have become intertwined!

The League of Women Voters has been a strong advocate for voting rights and has worked tirelessly to counter voter suppression, including joining with coalition partners in North Carolina in one of the most egregious voting suppression attempts since the Civil War. The League’s legal teams have also been active recently in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

So reach out to folks you know in other states, especially those states experiencing voter suppression legislation, and make sure that you personally, like our League of Women Voters’ legal team, have done all you can to make sure that everyone can vote. It is a responsibility that we all have a stake in.

Be Aware, Be Bold, Be Proactive, ACT. Our Democracy is at stake!

Louise Rothman-Riemer

President, League of Women Voters of Oakland