After Republican efforts to suppress the votes of those who would probably not vote for them ramped up in 2011, there was a great deal of pushback from the public. Court challenges had mixed results, with most courts saying that things like requiring voter ID were not unconstitutional (even if they aren’t “fair”), allowing many such laws to stand. When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by ruling the preclearance formula unconstitutional, voter suppression efforts started going even further, forcing the justice department to seek other ways to protect voting rights.
Now the efforts to combat voter suppression are being taken out of the courts and into the legislature – and the streets.
Soon after the SCOTUS ruling, many legislators started introducing bills that expanded voter access. By the end of the year, 46 states had introduced laws that made it easier to vote, such as expanding polling locations and hours. The trend is continuing this year. Since the first of the year, 190 bills have been introduced in 31 states.
The state of Illinois has taken it a step further.
Earlier this month, the Illinois legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would ban voter suppression in Illinois. Introduced by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the amendment would make any form of voter suppression illegal. The amendment overwhelmingly passed both houses of the legislature and will go to the voters in November.
The amendment simply states: “No person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”
This has come as part of a nationwide effort to combat suppression efforts. At the national level, the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014 was introduced in Congress and seeks to address the issues the Supreme Court found unconstitutional with Section 4 of the VRA. Section 4 had been used to determine which states would require preclearance for any changes in their voting laws.
The new amendment would expand the types of violations that would be subject to the preclearance requirement, as well as apply the new standards to all states and jurisdictions that have had voting rights violations within a certain amount of time. It currently has 22 sponsors representing both parties.
In February, the Democratic Party announced the launch of a permanent voter rights expansion program that would “establish permanent procedures and staff in each state to help register and educate voters, and work with local officials to expand access to the polls in the November elections and beyond.” The plan includes a nationwide network of voter advocates and legal help to protect voters. The effort was announced with the help of former President Bill Clinton.
Recently, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe made it easier for former felons convicted of serious drug charges to regain their voting rights. In all, 13 bills have been signed into law expanding voter access thus far this year. With the midterm elections less than six months away, efforts are being made to reverse the historically low voter turnout for non-presidential year elections. The most important step is that people that are eligible to vote are allowed to do so.
When launching the DNC voter expansion program, President Bill Clinton said, “It’s not enough anymore just to be against these new voting restrictions. To form that more perfect union, we have to expand rights, not take them away.”
One would think that is self-evident.