Voter Restrictions Are Preventing Registered Voters from Casting Ballots

There’s a big difference in requiring a photo ID to board an airplane and the right to vote.  Voting in America is a precious right; eligibility is established in the United States Constitution, its amendments, by state laws and by various acts of Congress. Because the Constitution does not have particular language on voting except for the Fourteenth Amendment (1868), the Fifteen Amendment (1870) , the Nineteenth Amendment (1920), the Twenty-Fourth Amendment  (1964) and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment (1971), the states have wide discretion to establish the legal qualifications for voting.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a very hard-fought law that sought to end the decades of Jim Crow voting restrictions of African-Americans living in the South particularly. In 1964 fewer than half of all registered African-Americans living in the Jim Crow South were eligible to vote. Now 70% of African-Americans are registered to vote. About 65% of registered African-Americans voted in the last two presidential elections.

Even those statistics, being promising, are under a vicious attack in an effort to restrict voting. It is no  surprise that most of the states that have recently passed onerous voting restrictions have governments that are overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans. There are easily accessible videos to view in which state legislators in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the Deep South have candidly said out loud that with voting restriction laws in place — laws shortening voter registration dates and times, laws eliminating or drastically curtailing early voting — African-Americans, Hispanics and persons of color, the disabled and the poor will not have the ability to cast votes.  The poorly hidden purpose of the voting restrictions is clear — to limit those who are more likely to vote Democrat.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court devastated the strengths of the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder. In that case Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was stricken. That section had required states with a history of discriminatory voting restrictions to seek federal permission, “pre-clearance,” before the state could change its voting laws.

The state of Alabama argued that Section 5 was outdated and unnecessary. It maintained that Alabama’s past racist history was no more in that it would not limit voting to anyone based on race. Without this section of the Act those states, mostly in the Deep South, have no federal oversight.  In fact lawmakers in states like Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Alabama almost immediately passed laws they knew would depress voter turnout by making it difficult to register to vote. Texas has the most onerous of voting laws, now that Section 5 is out of its way.

It has been reported that as many as 500,000 registered voters in Texas will be turned away from polls because they lack the special ID. Wisconsin, which before Gov. Scott Walker pushed through their stringent voting laws, proudly had one the country’s most open and encouraging voting laws. Now about 200,000 of it citizens will be barred from voting because they lack the required ID mandated by the Republican-run state government.

The result is a decrease in minority voting in many states, and the decline has been documented. In the 2014 elections, there was a marked decrease in the numbers of African-Americans voters compared to the 2010 elections. That decrease, not surprisingly, shows up in four southern states that included Texas, Alabama, Virginia and Georgia. What’s also stunning in the decline of voters of color is the fact that the population of persons of color in those states has risen sharply.

The talk is that voter restriction laws were enacted to prevent “widespread” voter fraud by dead people voting, people voting under different names or voting more than once. There is absolutely no evidence of any wave of voter abuse anywhere. Voter fraud is virtually non-existent.

In eleven states there are laws on the books that prevent a registered voter from casting a ballot without a strict photo ID. These laws are under scrutiny for being unconstitutional in that they are oppressive with the motive, not well-hidden, to keep the poor, the young, the disabled, the elderly and persons of color out of  voting booths.

Citizens of states across the country must encourage changes to make it easier for people to vote.  Reforms such as on-line registration, same-day registration, access for the disabled and the poor are needed to expand voter turnout and eligibility. One note of optimism in this area comes from Montana where in 2014 an organized legislative referendum would have eliminated same-day voter registration.  A coalition of advocates worked to defeat that measure.

There’s much to do to make sure that citizens have their right to vote without restriction.

Robert D. Kreisman of Kreisman Law Offices chairs the subcommittee, Administration of Justice, at the Union League Club of Chicago. Kreisman Law Offices has been handling civil trial matters for individuals, families and businesses for more than 40 years.

Related blog posts:

The Illinois Juvenile Court Act Requires That a Minor Who Is Younger than 13 At the Time of the Commission of a Murder or Serious Sexual Assault Must Be Represented by Counsel During Interrogations

Illinois’ 6-Person Jury Law Ruled Unconstitutional by Cook County Judge

The Voting Rights Acts of 2014 and U.S. Court Decision in Shelby County