Voting Rights Act: After Supreme Court Ruling, 2016 Election Could Endanger Black, Latino Rights
• Jan 30, 2016
International Business Times By Aaron Morrison
Decades after many Americans fought, bled and died for the right to vote, millions of voters could be once again be turned away from the polls this year because of a regime of voting laws that disproportionately burden minorities, the elderly, immigrants and the poor. With both presidential and congressional elections in November, advocates warn that the stakes are high.
“Basically, all hell is breaking loose,” said Katherine Culliton-González, director of the voter protection program at the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project, who spent five years working on voter issues at the U.S. Department of Justice. “Unless you are in the elite — and that doesn’t even mean in the middle class — voter restrictions are going to impact you, one way or another."
This year’s presidential election will be the first one held after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the historic Voting Rights Act in 2013, which required federal pre-clearance of voting law changes for states with a history of voter discrimination. Without those protections in place, pending legal battles over the fairness and constitutionality of recently enacted voting laws will get unprecedented scrutiny this year, advocates on both sides have said. If the courts uphold, for example, a voter ID requirement in North Carolina or allow Texas to redraw districts and reduce political power in heavily immigrant communities, they'd potentially be denying millions the right to vote and be equally represented by their state lawmakers.
“Voting laws seem to be changing every day, and that in and of itself is disenfranchising to so many Americans,” González said.
Modern voter ID laws, those that require Americans to present some form of government-issued ID before receiving an election ballot, have been adopted in Democratic and Republican statehouses since 2000, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But increasingly stricter requirements in the years that followed have asked voters for specific forms of photo and non-photo ID that racial minorities, immigrants and the poor were less likely to have on-hand compared to affluent whites, studies showed. Federal law has allowed these requirements, as long as lawmakers prove that there is no undue burden to any eligible voter.
Voting rights advocates said Republicans championed voter ID laws to preserve their influence by limiting turnout for their Democratic rivals who tend to appeal to black, Latino and low-income voters. The laws were passed against the backdrop of an increasingly diverse nation, in which whites are estimated to be the minority race in 2043, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Proponents of the laws, however, have argued that voter ID requirements are the best way to ensure the integrity of the democratic process and avoid fraud. “No law should prevent someone from exercising their right to vote, but verifying who you are when you go to vote shouldn’t be so much to ask,” said Gene Berardelli, a New York-based lawyer who is a proponent of certain requirements. New York does not have a voter ID law on the books.
With his experience as a poll watcher and having represented a state senator in a close election recount, Berardelli expressed concern over states that simply ask voters to sign next to their names in a stack of printed voter rolls.
“I could sign 'Mickey Mouse' and it could get past a poll worker,” he said. “I would think every candidate would want anyone who can vote to do so responsibly.”
There was high public support for some form of voter ID law in 2015, according to a poll by Ramussen Reports. Around 76 percent of those polled said they favored voter ID laws. Ramussen surveyed 952 “likely voters” in late May of last year.
But advocates point out there is no evidence that voter fraud was taking place before the laws were passed. Instead, they say problems with the law arise when too many eligible voters, especially those in underrepresented communities, fail to meet the new voter ID requirements. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, 11 percent of Americans, or 21 million people, lacked a government-issued photo ID in 2006, even though they were registered to vote. In Texas, that amounted to more than 600,000 voters.
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