Two Courts Overturn Voter Suppression Laws

In the last week, federal courts have delivered major victories against voter-suppression legislation that seeks to disenfranchise millions of registered voters this November.

A federal appeals court struck down a voter I.D. law in Texas last Thursday, ruling that it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters. The three-judge panel ruled that the state failed to prove that the law, which required registered voters to present a government-issued photo I.D. at the polls, would not detrimentally affect minorities. In fact, the federal judges said the I.D. requirement would have a “retrogressive effect”—one that could possibly sway the electoral votes.

According to the appeals court, out of the nearly 800,000 Texas voters sampled, Hispanic and African American voters were twice as likely to lack a government-issued photo I.D. than non-Hispanic voters. The court also took into account Texas’ “legacy of discrimination” against Latinos and decided that since racial minorities in Texas disproportionately live in poverty, obtaining a proper photo I.D. would have an undue burden on the poor.

The ruling came two days after a separate three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., found that Texas’ redistricting plan for its Congressional and state legislature districts were also discriminatory.

Meanwhile, in the pivotal electoral swing state of Ohio, a federal judge granted an injunction on Friday to block a new law that cut short the deadline for in-person early voting at the Friday evening before Election Day. The law, passed in 2011 by the conservative state legislature, only made exemptions for military personnel and overseas voters. The Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party challenged the measure, claiming it significantly limited access to the polls.

The federal injunction will restore three early voting days in the state, giving all registered voters in the state until Monday, Nov. 5, to cast their ballots.

Voter suppression tends to be looked at as a practice of the past, obliterated with the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s. But since 2011, a wave of 180 voting restrictions were introduced in 41 state legislatures, revealing the many forms voter suppression can take: photo I.D. and proof of citizenship requirements, and the elimination of in-person registration and early voting.

In the wake of the 2000 presidential election recount debacle, these laws are supposedly meant to eliminate voter fraud—a crime purported to be a growing trend yet lacking statistical evidence to be deemed as such. Those most hurt by the recently instituted stringent voter I.D. laws are minorities, the elderly, college students and voters in battleground states.

The recent court victories for voters’ rights can certainly help reverse the intended suppression of votes during the 2012 presidential election. Texas has the second-most electoral votes among the states (38), while Ohio delivers 18 electoral votes—and has a history of deciding the fate of presidential elections. In all, the 16 states that have passed voting laws since 2011 account for 214 electoral votes—79 percent of the total needed to secure the presidency. Notes the New York University School of Law Brennan Center for Justice, the laws could make it harder for more than 5 million eligible Americans to have their votes count—a number larger than the winning margin in two of the last three presidential elections.

Other voter suppression lawsuits in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida weren’t so lucky in the courts. However, there are still ways to combat voter suppression in your state. Check out vote411.org to learn the voter requirements in your state, and make sure that you and your friends, neighbors and family members all know how to register and have their votes count at the polls. Regardless of location, socioeconomic status, race or age, no eligible American citizen should be denied the right to vote by having unnecessary hurdles thrown in their path to the polls.

 Photo from Flickr user Mortimer62 under Creative Commons 3.0.

Comments

  1. Personally, I have no problem with Voter ID laws. In fact, neither does the Supreme Court of the United States that ruled 6-3 that Indiana’s voter ID law was constitutional in 2007. I think a good way for states to get passed judges is just make a Voter ID Card free. The Supreme Court said, because the Indiana cards were free, even if gathering the required documents may prove onerous, the law would be constitutional. Also, I think that for all the talk that Republicans pass the laws to keep Democratics from voting, Democrats only want the ID laws struck down for their own political benefits (not for ideas that voting is so fundamental). I think many are just holding out, hoping the laws are put on hold until after November which I think is sketchy. I have to imagine maybe some Democratic areas/groups want to stop the ID laws for their own personal benefits. It seems Democrats (of which I am a proud Democrat) want regulation and oversight of businesses, securities, education, health care claiming those are so important and need government to be a check on illegal activities, but DON’T want the same government oversight where they as a political group might suffer. Hypocrisy?

    Also, I have to get ID for so many different things. To buy alcohol, to get a passport, to get a license, to rent a car, etc. People say, “hey, but voting is important so how dare you try to verify identity and smooth the process.” I say, because voting is so important, ID laws are great!

    Finally, as far as the PA voter law, the day the plaintiff found out she was denied an injunction, she gathered the papers (that were in her house!!) and went to get the free ID card.

  2. It is a sad day when judges pass legislation from the bench and allow voter suppression in this country. Money not only buys politicians it also buys judges.

  3. It’s blatantly obvious that the GOP is trying to knock as many Democrats as possible off the voter rolls. That 2 judges have ruled against them restores my faith in the electoral process. All citizens should have the right to vote.

    Just remember, in the past politicians have railed against low voter turnout!

  4. I dont understand Terry’s comment. Judges did not pass these laws and judges have not allowed many of these laws to stand…am I seriously missing something? ha

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