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2013: A Year of Voting Rights Setbacks We Can Learn From

2013: A Year of Voting Rights Setbacks We Can Learn From

Written by Tim O’Brien, Voter Protection Project Manager, League of Women Voters

Over the years we have seen a steady increase in voter suppression across the country. It is possible that when we look back at 2013 it will be seen as a watershed year — a year that America hit a turning point in the battle for voting rights and recognized that we must do what we can to expand access to the polls, instead of creating new barriers that make it more difficult to vote.

At the federal level, voting advocates celebrated a major win when the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona may not apply its documentary proof of citizenship provision to persons who apply to register to vote using the Federal Form developed through the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Subsequently, the states of Arizona and Kansas have filed suit against the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to force the EAC to update the Federal Form. The League of Women Voters has sought to intervene in this case.

Just a week after the NVRA victory, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), effectively gutting the federal “preclearance” mechanism that had protected millions of voters by preventing discrimination in voting for more than four decades. With this decision, the floodgates have been opened for state legislatures to put in place barriers to voting in the jurisdictions with the worst records of discrimination. Indeed, within days of the Court’s decision, we saw serious actions taken against voters in several critical states that had previously been subject to VRA preclearance. The U.S. Department of Justice has made efforts to challenge these new discriminatory tactics, and we believe that Congress has the power to repair and restore the VRA.

At the state level, 2013 brought renewed attempts to restrict voting. All in all, nearly 4,000 election-related bills were introduced in state legislatures, including both pro-voter reform bills, as well as those that would make it more difficult for voters to participate in elections.

Leagues throughout the country advocated for reforms that ease access to the ballot and defended voting rights by advocating against voter suppression. In Illinois, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, successful lobbying efforts for the implementation of online voter registration helped increase access to the polls. In Florida, Illinois and Maryland, lobbying efforts helped expand early voting. Perhaps the most significant victory occurred in Florida where efforts to repeal the oppressive voting laws that resulted in long lines and numerous other problems on Election Day 2012 were successful. These efforts showed that it is possible to change the narrative and negative momentum to turn the tide towards pro-voter reforms that lower barriers and create a democracy that is accessible for all.

In addition to the now all-too-common proposed voter photo ID laws, state legislatures, emboldened by the Court’s decision on the VRA, were fixated on rolling back common-sense reforms that have been making the voting process easier for decades. For example, in North Carolina, the legislature ended same-day registration, shortened early voting, dispensed with Sunday voting and defunded programs to help pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds. With support from our legal partner, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina has brought two legal challenges against the new North Carolina law. In addition to the lawsuits in North Carolina, the League continues to be involved with additional lawsuits across the country, including in Texas, as well as moving forward with critical legal challenges to restrictive voter photo ID laws in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

There is no doubt that 2013 has been a watershed year for voting rights. The country saw several large defeats, which led to a new focus and understanding of the true risk to our great democracy – new barriers that threaten the very foundation of our way of governing by blocking the right of eligible citizens to vote and have their votes counted. While 2013 has laid the groundwork for continued battles to protect our right to vote in 2014, the League also believes those battles will lead to a focus on pushing for expanding voting rights in the year to come.

This piece was originally published on the LWV blog

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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58 comments

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11:01AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

As usual John You miss the entire point. I ddont give a CRAP what we need to show an ID for.

We have NEVER had to show an ID to vote and there is no REASON to start now except for the fact the right WANTS it. Its NOT the ID itself its the KIND of ID and what you need to get one.

We dodnt NEED One John.

9:02AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

In a country where you must have a ID to buy beer,board a plane,enter a federal building,cash checks and so on and so on but not to vote...You backward democrats who don't believe in voter ID turn over your picture ID or driver license and lets see how far you go..Know more excuses get and pass voter ID..

8:28PM PST on Dec 18, 2013

Like you Rs keep saying……stop trying to add laws that wont change the outcomes. We dodnt need more gun laws yadda yadda yadda. The same thing applies HERE. There is not anywhere nEAR voter fraud to affect anat election. It is total rubbish that your party has sold you.
There has never been a NEED to have ids until someone decided to play with the system to get Romney elected. The pointt is you WANT IDs…… the rest of us and our history say there is no need. get over yourselves. Your party has sold you a red herring and you have accepted it.

3:07PM PST on Dec 18, 2013

Thanks

8:31AM PST on Dec 18, 2013

Charles P, you said "This really isn't voter suppression. All the repugnants are doing is trying to make certain that their candidates win elections. They can't win on issues."

That is precisely why it IS voter suppression. The Republicans are manipulating or breaking every possible law in order to make voting difficult for people likely to vote Democratic so they can eke out wins they would never earn fair and square. That's what voter suppression has always been about -- suppression of the other party's voters. Maybe we should call it Cheating to Suppress the Other Party's Voters.


2:47PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

"I do not understand why there is such hoopla about a voter's ID,"

1. Voter impersonation fraud is virtually non-existent.
2. There are already severe penalties for voter impersonation fraud: 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
3. Imbedded in every voter ID law is a poll tax.
4. Voter ID laws are almost always covers for extensive voter suppression tactics.

2:44PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

Why the Florida League of Women Voters Couldn't Register Voters

As part of a broader assault on the voting rights of Floridians, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill in 2011 that placed severe restrictions and penalties on third party groups that attempt to register new voters. A federal judge later ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

Under those laws, third parties who wanted to help register voters could face $5,000 fines, a third degree felony and up to 5 years in prison if they violate any of the broad provisions noted in the legal paperwork.
http://www.lwv.org/blog/why-lwv-florida-cant-register-voters

After Signing Law Disenfranchising ID-less Voters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Closes 10 DMV Offices
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/07/25/277592/walker-closes-dmvs/

That Was Quick: Texas Moves Forward With Voter ID Law After Supreme Court Ruling

http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/that-was-quick-texas-moves-forward-with-voter-id-law-after-supreme-court-ruling-20130625

North Carolina Shows Why the Voting Rights Act Is Still Needed
http://www.thenation.com/blog/177577/north-carolina-shows-why-voting-rights-act-still-needed#

12:17PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

Robert K, You and Brian had the soldering gun turned way too high when they attached your tin hats, did Bush start the civil war too?

9:55AM PST on Dec 16, 2013

David F, if you believe a single word you posted you are certifiably a moron. By any standard of counting possible, Gore won, even after Bush's brother threw over 80,000 black voters off the rolls illegally. The counting was finally done a year later and every possible count went for Gore.

SCOTUS even said that their decision was a one time thing, not a precedent and that they ruled that way was because allowing the vote to continue would harm Bush.

9:49AM PST on Dec 16, 2013

Keevin, there are lots of right wing nut jobs in congress, but I challenge you to come up with any left wing ones.

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