This is a guest post from Joan Fitz-Gerald, President of America Votes.
Two cases presently before the Supreme Court will determine whether the states can enact new obstacles to voter registration and whether states with a history of voting rights violations no longer need approval to enact changes to voting laws, nor need federal approval over the decisions of local elections officials where previous infractions had occurred.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the plaintiff (Shelby County) is claiming that the formula for determining a need for pre-clearance status prescribed in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is outdated and unfairly targets Southern states. Historically, preclearance has been implemented in the jurisdictions where violations were the greatest as a protection for all of their voters. “Preclearance” has provided the opportunity for remedy before an election takes place rather than answering complaints from voters who were denied their right to vote.
If there is an undue burden, does that pale in comparison to the burden placed on citizens who historically were not been able to exercise their right to vote?
The second case, Arizona v. the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, has met with less publicity but could have a real impact on the availability and ease of registration for citizens. The Motor Voter law (National Registration Act of 1993) acknowledged that a barrier to voter registration is a barrier to voting. Millions have benefitted by availing themselves of the convenience of registering to vote at motor vehicle offices when they get their drivers license or other convenient locations other than obscure county offices. It increased mail-in registration and enabled registration drives that are universally common today.
The registration form for federal elections simply requires a signature by the voter swearing that they are a citizen of the United States under penalty of perjury. A 2004 Arizona law additionally mandated showing proof of that citizenship, thereby creating a state-made barrier to voting for many citizens.
It has been estimated that as many as 13 million Americans do not possess such documents and, if the Arizona law were in enacted in the other 49 states, these citizens would not be able to vote.
Over the past 2 ½ years, we have seen numerous attempts to limit access to voting by right wing majorities in state legislatures from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania. For our part, America Votes stands at the forefront of pushback efforts in these states and the rest of our 19-state network. With over 300 partner organizations, our national and in-state coalitions are working to coordinate the progressive community’s response to partisan state officials’ voter suppression campaign, otherwise known as the “War on Voting.”
In 2012, America Votes cemented its position as a leader of the voter protection effort in response to numerous state-based Voter ID and voter purge measures. Looking ahead, America Votes is absolutely committed to protecting and expanding the right to vote in 2013 and beyond. In states like Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada, our coalitions will pursue proactive voter protection initiatives to ensure this hard-fought right – the foundation of our democracy – is not superseded as the path to conservative electoral gain. The battle is not yet won, but we are prepared to fight until voters are no longer the target of conservatives’ “War.”