Old Battles Become New Again
New voter suppression tactics threaten our right to vote
Protecting America’s basic right to vote has proven to be an insurmountable task reborn with every generation. The present generation’s fight for voting rights was ignited four years ago when the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling overturned essential parts of the Voting Rights Act, inflicting one of the most devastating judicial decisions in recent American history.
As we approach another anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, Congress has the opportunity to restore vital voter protections that have secured the integrity of our democracy for more than fifty years. Passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act will redeem America’s promise of a fair vote for every age-eligible citizen by modernizing key portions of the Voting Rights Act.
Obstacles to voting are no longer as blatantly obvious as poll taxes and no longer only affect people of color. Fifty years ago and earlier, black voters were often met with literacy tests or asked to guess how many marbles were in a jar when they attempted to register to vote. Today, voter ID laws and gerrymandering create barriers to the polls for individuals from all skin-colors and age groups.
An eruption of unjust voter ID laws and unfairly gerrymandered districts has arisen in the absence of federal safeguards that prevent states from erecting unfair barriers to voting. Not a single state required voters to show photo identification in order to cast their vote before 2006. However, 10 states now require voters to show photo identification and more than half of America’s fifty states require voters to have some form of identification to cast their ballot.
Startlingly, one of the biggest threats against voting rights currently comes from the White House itself. In addition to withdrawing from longstanding legal challenges to discriminatory voter laws, the Trump Administration has created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which aims to investigate “improper voting registration” and “fraudulent voting.”
Crafted by President Trump, the Commission’s true aim is to verify the president’s unsubstantiated, repeated claim that between 3 and 5 million people voted illegally in the latest election and to lay the foundation for new voter restrictions that will make it harder for millions of Americans to vote. President Trump continues to propagate the misleading notion that voter fraud occurs widely, despite studies that show the rates of voter fraud are lower than the rates of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning.
While President Trump steers the national discourse in the wrong direction, the truth is that voting rights and election protections were a bi-partisan effort for over five-decades.
In contrast to the current presidential administration, the White House has routinely worked with Congress to ensure fair access to the ballot box. With the overwhelming support of Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to sign the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
President George W. Bush was the latest president to reauthorize federal voting protections. At the signing celebration of the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act, President Bush said the historic legislation “helped bring a community on the margins into the life of American democracy.”
The Republican Party’s about-face on the issue of voting rights is a decision leading American democracy in the wrong direction and leaving citizens far behind. The road to freedom is long and winding, but no citizen deserves to be left in the rearview mirror.
In order to fix the Supreme Court’s upsetting Shelby County v. Holder ruling, Congress must act quickly. The Voting Rights Advancement Act is a feasible and fair solution to shield America’s vote from discriminatory armament. It provides a modern-day coverage formula that gives federal oversight to states that have 15 or more voting violations within the past 25 years.
Based on the updated formula of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, 13 states would qualify for federal coverage. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Already, 9 of these 13 states have erected voter ID barriers that discourage racial minorities, disabled Americans, and naturalized citizens from voting.
Voting rights is a uniquely important issue that enables every American to voice their opinion about every issue that affects our society, and future generations will judge us sternly on how we decide to rectify this commonsense issue. American democracy cannot afford to default on its promise of evenhanded and nondiscriminatory voting.