On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section Five of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA was won through determined struggle by millions of African American people and their allies in the Civil Rights Movement.
Within hours of the Supreme Court ruling, Texas announced plans to implement a previously blocked law aimed at disenfranchising as many Black, Latino and low-income voters as possible.
Section Four of the VRA contains a formula for determining which states have had a history of racist discrimination. Section Five required that those states receive approval in advance (“pre-clearance”) from the federal Department of Justice or a federal court before making any changes to their election laws, including establishing ID requirements to register or vote, redrawing of congressional district boundaries, eliminating early voting and more.
Other southern states quickly followed the lead of Texas. On July 25, the North Carolina legislature passed an extremely wide-ranging and racist voter reduction bill, which the governor is expected to quickly sign into law. The bill includes the following provisions:
- Require voter ID at polling places
- Reduce the early voting period from 17 days to 10 days.
- Prohibit counties from extending poll hours by one hour on Election Day even in extraordinary circumstances, such as in response to long lines. (Those in line at closing time would still be allowed to vote)
- Eliminate pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, who currently can register to vote before they turn 18
- Outlaw paid voter registration drives
- Eliminate provisional voting if someone shows up at the wrong precinct
- Allow any registered voter of a county to challenge the eligibility of a voter rather than just a voter of the precinct in which the suspect voter is registered
The advocates of the voter ID requirement claim that they are motivated by concern over “voter fraud”—individuals attempting to vote multiple times or casting votes for dead people, or ineligible persons trying to cast ballots. But this “concern” is pure fabrication. The number of such incidents is miniscule.
In 2012, the MinnPost reported that there had been 10 reported cases of voter fraud since 2000 in Minnesota and zero cases of voter impersonation. Over those 12 years, including four presidential elections, millions of Minnesotans had gone to the polls. Similar state and nationwide investigations have shown similar results.
In 2007, the New York Times reported that over the previous five years of a Bush administration “crackdown on voter fraud,” just 120 people had been charged and 86 convicted, out of the hundreds of millions who had cast votes in that period. “Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.”
But while “voter fraud” is in reality extremely minimal, the photo ID laws passed by more than 10 states in recent years has a huge impact on voter turnout. More than 21 million people—overwhelmingly nationally oppressed and/or low income individuals do not have the government-issued photo ID now necessary for voting in states including South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama.
Freed from VRA oversight, a court in Florida dismissed a lawsuit aimed at blocking a new purge of the voter rolls in Florida. The lawsuit had prevented Florida from sending any new names of “potential non-U.S. citizens” to county election officials. Clearly the main target will be Latino voters in the state.
Florida sate officials have also carried out aggressive purges of voters in predominantly African American communities.
Millions more, again disproportionately African American and Latino, have been deprived of the right to vote because they have felony convictions, often the result of deliberate over-charging and lack of adequate legal counsel.
While many of the racist “voter reduction” efforts are led by Republicans seeking to diminish their Democratic party opponents, the Democrats cannot be relied on in this struggle. It will require what it took to win voting and other rights a half-century ago—an organized, determined mass movement.