Voters’ Rights Update by Jo Reiken

voting-imageSince the Supreme Court ruled on the 1965 Voting Rights Act and diminished the scope of Section 5, many Americans have found registering to vote challenging.  Section 5 identified states with histories of racial discrimination and required federal oversight to any changes in their election laws.  Following the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby vs. Holder, the federal oversight was relaxed.

Fourteen states have enacted new voting laws since 2015. Ohio has not reinstated voters from previous purges. Nevada Indian tribes won an emergency court order requiring the polling places in two Northern counties. Whether through old transgressions or new ones, the voter suppression issue continues and will surely impact our national election on November 8.  These restrictions include requiring voter ID, eliminating same day registration, diminished polling areas, reducing early voting and purging voter rolls. Thousands of Americans are affected by this actions. A disproportion number of older voters, people of color, poor and young voters will be impacted.

What has been done?    The courts have stepped up and blocked many laws that violate the Constitution or the current VRA.  For example, the 5th Circuit of Appeals affirmed that Texas law was one of the most restrictive in the country. It discriminated against blacks and Latinos. Under the original law restrictions, 600,000 registered voters would not have been allowed to vote. The Judge instructed a lower court to review the intention of law as to discrimination as well as to order new procedures to be enacted.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, sponsored by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, (D) and Georgia Representative John Lewis (D ), targets practices known to suppress voting rights of minorities and will provide greater transparency in federal elections in voting procedures. It was assigned to a congressional committee on June 24, 2015 but this bill has little chance of passing without Republican support. At this time the bill has not made it to the House or the Senate. This bill is in stalemate in Congress.