Data shows that voting laws suppress the votes of Americans
Current laws with the intentions of preventing voter fraud are instead suppressing the votes of groups of people such as racial minorities, people with disabilities and the elderly. Voter suppression is when state governments pass measures that end up affecting a group of people and their ability to vote. Examples of measures that can result in voter suppression include strict voter ID laws, reducing early voting opportunities and closing poll locations in certain neighborhoods among other measures.
Shelby v. Holder
53 years ago, the federal government passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with the intent of preventing voting measures that would suppress votes, specifically the votes of minorities.
In 2010, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was brought to America’s attention — the section of the act stops “changes in election practices or procedures in covered jurisdictions” of certain states or counties until a higher power ruled that the changes would not have a discriminatory purpose nor effect. Shelby County of Alabama challenged the section in court.
Section 5 withstood the initial trials, but ended up inoperable after the act went through to the Supreme Court. The 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case found that it wasn’t Section 5 that was unconstitutional, but Section 4(b) that determined what areas were “covered jurisdictions.”
When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, it covered Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. It also affected political subdivisions in the states of Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho and North Carolina.
By its end in 2013, it included some townships in Michigan and some counties in New York, Florida, South Dakota and California. The act had affected a total of 15 states, including states that have affected counties or townships.
Since the ruling of Section 4(b) of the act as unconstitutional, Section 5 has been set on the shelf until Congress creates a replacement for Section 4(b). New laws on voting practices have already sprung up in the formerly-affected states.
Within the same year as the ruling of Shelby County v. Holder, six of the formerly-affected states — Mississippi, Virginia, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Texas — passed or announced measures that would possibly have the effect of suppressing votes.
Between 2013 and 2014, seven other states that were previously unaffected passed or brought up measures that would suppress votes.
President Trump has expressed concern over voter fraud and illegal voting, and stated in a tweet that it was the reason why he lost the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.
However, he has yet to give evidence to support his claim.
Still, Trump’s tweets insisted there was a problem and even recommended a solution: voter ID laws.
Voter ID Laws
As shown before the 2018 midterm, 34 states requested voters to procure an ID to vote, 16 of which requested a photo ID. Seven of those states have strict photo ID laws: Wisconsin, Kansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia.
During the 2018 midterms, North Carolina voted for a constitutional amendment that would require a photo ID to vote. According to the National Association of Social Workers, Mississippi is the only other state that has a constitutional amendment for voter ID.
The aim of those laws is to prevent voting fraud and ensure that a registered voter is who they claim to be.
Criticisms of those ID laws fall on the debate of their effects. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt argued in the Washington Post that using this method is “a slow, clunky way to steal an election,” and because of that, falsifying IDs of dead people rarely happens.
There has been little evidence to suggest that voter fraud is a pressing problem in America. Levitt found that between 2000 to 2014, there were only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.
While there is the argument that voter ID laws do little to prevent a large amount of voter fraud, there’s evidence that they tend to affect not just minorities, but the elderly and people with disabilities.
According to a study that considered voter turnout rates from 2006 to 2014, states with stricter voter ID laws tend to have higher turnout gaps between white and nonwhite voters.
Scholars say that racial and ethnic minorities tend to have less access to obtain photo IDs.
The laws can also affect people with lower incomes. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 15 percent of people with an annual income of less than $35,000 do not have government issued IDs.
The trouble of acquiring a driver license, a passport or a birth certificate (if a photo isn’t required) can range from not having enough money to not having transportation to get it.
It is also possible to get a non-driver ID card, or a voter ID card, though it may also require visiting the DMV.
An article by The New York Times notes some Republicans acknowledged that this tactic suppresses the votes of American minorities who they believe would vote for Democratic candidates.
Concerns on Fraud
Certain voter ID laws are intended to stop voter fraud. However, it is likely that they prevent eligible voters from voting more often than they fulfill their purpose.
According to a Gallup poll though, people are generally more concerned with potential fraud.
States such as Florida and Georgia have cut back on the number of early voting days.
According to data from nationwide secretaries of state compiled by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who specializes in American elections and former consultant to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, early voting in 2018 had surpassed 2014 figures. In Texas alone, more people have already voted early than in the 2014 election nationwide.
Early voting is not available in at least 13 states, not including Colorado, Washington or Oregon which use all-mail voting systems.
According to Demos, a public policy organization, the 2008 election “marked a dramatic increase in early in-person voting among African American and Latino voters.”
The cut in early voting dates in some states have shown how important those days are to minority voters as well.
In 2016, African American early voter turnout dropped significantly from what it had been during the 2012 presidential election.
In 2013, North Carolina was one of the first states to act after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted in the Shelby v. Holder case. The state soon made cuts to early voting, created a photo ID requirement and eliminated same-day registration among other things.
In July 2016, however, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled parts of the changes as unconstitutional. The ID requirement was scrapped and early voting was restored, among other provisions.
Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote that the provisions “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
However, in the months following the ruling, the executive director of North Carolina’s Republican Party Dallas Woodhouse emailed county election boards, encouraging them to limit the number of open hours at polling places and to keep certain sites closed on Sundays. The News & Observer acquired the emails, in which Woodhouse made the request.
“Our Republican Board members should feel empowered to make legal changes to early voting plans, that are supported by Republicans,” Woodhouse wrote in his emails. “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.”
Two other changes included no Sunday voting and eliminating early voting sites on college campuses.
“Many of our folks are angry and are opposed to Sunday voting for a host of reasons including respect for voter’s religious preferences, protection of our families and allowing the fine election staff a day off, rather than forcing them to work days on end without time off,” Woodhouse wrote in his emails.
Early Sunday mornings are popular voting days for African American voters who participated in various “souls to the polls” events, which consists of church members going to vote together after Sunday services.
On early voting on college campuses, Woodhouse wrote, “No group of people are entitled to their own early voting site, including college students, who already have more voting options than most other citizens.”
Woodhouse, however, has no real authority for this email to be anything more than a suggestion. Each board of elections in North Carolina oversees the early voting schedules for its respective county with the approval of the state board of elections.
According to the article from the News & Observer, there were Republican elections board members who did not support Woodhouse’s views, and voted to include Sunday voting hours and college campus voting sites while also rejecting efforts to significantly reduce early voting hours.
Other forms of voter suppression
Voter suppression takes the form of limiting prisoners from voting, including when they are on parol or through a post-sentencing waiting period. In 9 states (map from before 2018 midterm election), convicted felons might permanently lose the right to vote.
In the 2018 midterm election, Florida has voted to approve Amendment 4, which will restore the right to vote to more than 1 million felons.
According to Mother Jones, at least 4 million Americans who have been incarcerated were ineligible to vote in 2014.
In 2010, the disenfranchisement rate for black voters was one in 13. For non-black voters, the disenfranchisement rate was one in 56.
States such as Georgia, Ohio, Virginia and New York City have been facing a problem of voter names being purged from the rolls.
In Georgia, some of the voters purged were removed not because they had died, moved or been arrested, but based on the fact that they hadn’t voted in prior elections according to an APM Reports analysis. Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp oversaw the removal of 8 percent of Georgia’s registered voters, all before he announced he would be running for governor.
Kemp currently holds 50.3 percent of the vote, but Democrat candidate Stacey Abrams has not yet conceded. On Sunday, her campaign filed a lawsuit in federal court with the objective to count rejected absentee ballots and provisional ballots.
The lawsuit calls for the restoration of more than1,000 absentee ballots that had been rejected due to missing or insignificant information. If Kemp’s share drops below 50 percent, the race will automatically go into a run-off on Dec. 4.