The Attack on Voting Rights

Yesterday I went to another panel sponsored by the Center for American Progress. One of the things I really like about Washington, D.C. is that a great many organizations hold panels and hearings where they talk about important issues. You learn an immense amount from going to these events; plus, they often have free food. :P

In 2013, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down a couple of key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the Act required certain state and local governments to get federal approval before they could implement any changes to their voting laws, and Section 4(b) contained the formula that determined which areas had to get approval. The formula was based on the areas’ past records of discrimination in voting.

The five conservative justices ruled that Section 4(b) of the act was unconstitutional because the formula was based on information that came from over 40 years ago, and so it burdened the equal sovereignty of the states. This was despite the fact that the Act was reauthorized in 2005.

The Voting Rights Act has been immensely important — Obama would not have been elected President without it. The Act led to African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans winning office and exercising political power in many areas. Now that it has been rendered largely toothless, many states are passing a host of laws making it more difficult to vote. For example, Alabama now has a law requiring a photo ID to vote, and recently the state decided to close down 31 DMVs, mostly in rural, poor counties with a lot of black voters. This will make it very hard for them to get the IDs they need to go to the polls! And this is just one example — there are many others.

The 2008 presidential election saw a lot of black voters, Hispanic voters, Asian voters, women voters, and young voters. When Republicans took control of many state legislatures in 2010, they soon began passing a wave of new voting laws in many different states requiring photo IDs to vote, eliminating or restricting early voting, and generally increasing barriers to being able to vote. Republicans decided not to appeal to those voters; instead, they are trying to disenfranchise them.

Ari Berman (one of the panelists) said that the struggle for voting rights didn’t end in 1965. It continues today, and we have actually lost ground in the past few years. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) expressed frustration that the conservative majority in Congress wouldn’t pass a re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act. She observed that many Republicans are only worried about their very white, very rural, very conservative constituency, instead of considering the country as a whole.

So what is to be done? I am not the person to ask. These new restrictive and discriminatory voting laws have led to many people getting turned away from the polls, and they will make it harder to elect liberal candidates. We need better Supreme Court justices to reverse this decision, politicians who will expand the right to vote instead of restricting it, awareness of this discrimination, marchers, civil disobedience, and other actions. The future of America depends on this; people in our country fought and died for the right to vote. We shouldn’t let them down.