Voter Suppression Bills Surge After Supreme Court Guts VRA
In case any of you missed it, last week, the Supreme Court decided that, since we have a black president, voter discrimination does not exist.
In the majority opinion of their decision in the Shelby County v Holder case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional, Justice Roberts stated that the conditions in the covered states that precipitated the need for the VRA have changed dramatically. He pointed out that the racial gap in voter registration and voter turnout specifically between black and white voters had reached parity. He also noted that “blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”
Section 5 of the VRA requires preclearance of any changes in voting laws or conditions by the DOJ in the covered jurisdictions listed in Section 4 prior to implementation. By ruling Section 4 unconstitutional, Section 5 is effectively moot.
The six states covered under the original act were Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. In subsequent reauthorizations, additional jurisdictions were added, including Alaska, Arizona and Texas; certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota; and local jurisdictions in Michigan.
Within hours of the decision, four of the covered states announced plans to implement or reintroduce voting laws that had been, or would have been, blocked due to preclearance rulings.
It took exactly forty-eight hours for the first of the laws to take effect.
Two days after their decision, the Supreme Court vacated the judgments issued by lower courts which rejected Texas’ new voter ID law and redistricting plans, in light of their decision in the Shelby case. The voter ID law had been signed into law in August 2011 by Governor Rick Perry. It its ruling, the federal court stated that “the law will almost certainly have retrogressive effect: it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.” The state’s own data showed that Hispanics were anywhere from 46.5 percent to 120 percent less likely to have the required government-issued photo ID.
Texas implemented the law effective immediately.
In March 2013, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell signed new voter ID requirements into law. It requires all registered voters to produce a photo ID in order to vote. The law is innocuous enough, and even provides for a free photo ID if a voter is unable to obtain one. This ignores the costs of the required documentation to get the free photo ID, however.
Because Virginia is — or was — a preclearance state, implementation of the law was delayed until July 2014 as it awaited approval from the DOJ. Virginia officials are now trying to determine if they will implement the law prior to the original July 2014 date.
North Carolina is expected to produce a voter omnibus bill in the Senate as early as next week. The expected provisions are included in a previous bill passed by the House in April. The voter ID provision makes it harder for students to vote by not allowing student IDs as identification and taxes parents if students choose to register and vote where their school is located, instead of at their parents’ address. They are also expected to end early voting, Sunday voting and same day voter registration.
It should be noted that in the last election, blacks were 22% of voters, and of the voters without a state-issued ID, blacks were 34%. They made up almost one-third of in-person early voters and 34% of same day registration voters. Sunday voting is often the day churches do their ‘voters to the polls,’ in which they provide transportation to polling locations.
The provisions, republicans say, are all about reducing (non-existent) voter fraud and adding integrity to the voting process.
Like Virginia, Mississippi had already passed a voter approved voter ID law, which requires a government-issued photo ID in order to vote, but was awaiting preclearance approval from DOJ. They are making arrangements for the law to take effect as soon as possible.
At the moment, it appears the Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is going beyond just providing a free ID and is addressing the costs involved providing documentation to get the ID. He is installing cameras in circuit clerks’ offices for free photos, free transportation to the offices, and has established agreements with the vital records divisions of forty-five states to provide free electronic verification of birth certificate information. He hopes to get an agreement with all fifty states.
There are still issues of redistricting and voter ID laws that were blocked in other states. Time will tell if those states will move forward with those in light of the SCOTUS ruling.
We’ll keep you posted.
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