In 1965, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act:
After its enactment in 1965, the law immediately decreased racial discrimination in voting. The suspension of literacy tests and the assignments of federal examiners and observers allowed for high numbers of racial minorities to register to vote.:702 Nearly 250,000 African Americans registered in 1965, one-third of whom were registered by federal examiners. In covered jurisdictions, less than one-third (29.3%) of the African American population was registered in 1965; by 1967, this number increased to more than half (52.1%),:702 and a majority of African American residents became registered to vote in 9 of the 13 Southern states. Similar increases were seen in the number of African Americans elected to office: between 1965 and 1985, African Americans elected as state legislators in the 11 former Confederate states increased from 3 to 176.:112 Nationwide, the number of African American elected officials increased from 1,469 in 1970 to 4,912 in 1980.:919 By 2011, the number was approximately 10,500. Similarly, registration rates for language minority groups increased after Congress enacted the bilingual election requirements in 1975 and amended them in 1992. In 1973, the percent of Hispanics registered to vote was 34.9%; by 2006, that amount nearly doubled. The number of Asian Americans registered to vote in 1996 increased 58% by 2006.
Unfortunately, the 1965 Voting Rights Act has been systematically chipped away by Republican legal challenges and conservative judges, most notably in 2013 with the John Roberts Supreme Court decision on Shelby County v. Holder:
Since the ruling, several states once covered under preclearance have passed laws that removed provisions such as online voting registration, early voting, “Souls to the Polls” Sunday voting, same-day registration, and pre-registration for teens about to turn 18. The ruling has also resulted in some states implementing voter identification laws and becoming more aggressive in expunging allegedly ineligible voters from registration rolls. States that have changed their voting policies post-Shelby include both jurisdictions that were previously required to undergo federal preclearance, as well as some that were not covered, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas.
Three years after the ruling, 868 polling places had been closed down. Five years after the ruling, nearly a thousand polling places had been closed in the country, with many of the closed polling places in predominantly African-American counties. Research shows that the changing of voter locations and reduction in voting locations can reduce voter turnout.
Republicans have been systematically attacking voting rights across the country, while Democrats play defense through the courts. Playing defense isn’t working.
Nearly 10% of the population of North Dakota, mostly Native-Americans, does not have a street address, instead only a P.O. Box. They all might be prevented from voting in this year’s election due to a Republican law requiring that an ID with a street address be presented in order to vote:
Native American groups in North Dakota are scrambling to help members acquire new addresses, and new IDs, in the few weeks remaining before Election Day — the only way that some residents will be able to vote.
This week, the Supreme Court declined to overturn North Dakota’s controversial voter ID law, which requires residents to show identification with a current street address. A P.O. box does not qualify.
Many Native American reservations, however, do not use physical street addresses. Native Americans are also overrepresented in the homeless population, according to the Urban Institute. As a result, Native residents often use P.O. boxes for their mailing addresses and may rely on tribal identification that doesn’t list an address.
Those IDs used to be accepted at polling places — including in this year’s primary election — but will not be valid for the general election.
In Georgia, the Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, who also happens to be running for Governor, is denying the approval of thousands of voter registrations due to an arcane “exact match” law that was passed in 2017:
A coalition of civil rights groups sued Kemp in his official capacity Thursday over a 2017 voting law that has hampered the registrations of more than 50,000 people — of whom approximately 80 percent are black, Latino or Asian American, according to the lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Atlanta.
The “exact match” law requires election officials to flag and pause any voter registration application if the identifying information doesn’t precisely match the voter’s information in existing records, even because of something as small as a missing hyphen or a transposed number.
Across the country, Republicans have been purging voter rolls, sometimes for ridiculous reasons such as in Ohio, where if somebody didn’t vote in the last two elections, they were automatically purged:
The challenge to Ohio’s law was brought by a software engineer named Larry Harmon, who usually votes only in presidential elections. In 2012, he didn’t like the Obama-Romney choice, and so he stayed home. And when he went to vote a couple of years later, against a ballot initiative about marijuana legalization, he found he was no longer registered. He had been purged from the rolls, because he hadn’t voted in two consecutive elections, nor had he sent back a postcard the state sent out to confirm that his address had not changed.
In both Ohio and North Dakota, the Supreme Court has upheld the Republican voter suppression laws by a 5-4 vote, with all conservative justices voting in favor.
Playing defense is not working. Democrats need to play offense when it comes to making sure everyone in this country is able to vote. A new National Voting Rights Act needs to be passed by Congress. This should be a top priority. Our democracy is literally at stake.
A new National Voting Rights Act could be passed that would do the following things, among others:
1) Mandate Automatic Voter Registration in every state – if someone goes to any facility to obtain an ID, whether ot be a drover’s license, state ID, or passport, they are automatically registered to vote.
2) Mandate the Availability of Polling Places in every state – set a minimum distance and population requirement for a polling place to be made available for each and every voting population in the country.
3) Mandate Early Voting in every state – set a date, such as a month prior to every election, by which a state must allow early votes to be cast.
4) Make Election Day a National Holiday – make the first Tuesday after November 1 a national holiday so every voter will be able to vote without having to worry about missing work.
5) Mandate Paper Ballots – require every state to use paper ballots so that voters can be sure their vote has been counted and reduce the worry that an all electronic voting system could be hacked to change the results.
Many of these initiatives have been undertaken at the state level, but only by Democrats. This has led to a patchwork of voting laws throughout the country that has also led to extreme differences in voter turnout from state to state. Our government was given to us by the founding fathers to be “of the people, by the people, for the people”. In order to ensure we have the government that we should have, the people should all be able to vote.