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Voter Suppression Campaigns Hit Roadblocks

As “The Year of Voter ID” continues, pushback from outraged voters in a number of venues is leading to a growing realization that these supposed efforts to maintain election integrity are actually intended to suppress the vote this November. As a result, backers of voter suppression measures are facing unexpected obstacles at both the state and federal level in their efforts to tilt the electoral scales.  

Corporations are fleeing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), thanks in large part to growing public pressure on them to end their support for voter suppression laws. But despite ALEC’s apparent retreat — they announced they would be abolishing the task force responsible for pushing voter ID laws — the fight to preserve the vote this year goes on in courthouses, at ballot boxes, and in budget negotiations in states across the nation. Recent highlights for voting rights advocates at the state level include:

  • Though the Missouri legislature had passed a bill that would put the question of voter ID on the November ballot — an attempt to bypass a 2006 ruling by the state Supreme Court that voter ID was unconstitutional — legislators were unable to rewrite the ballot measure language before the end of session, killing the initiative in the process and ensuring that a voter ID requirement would not be on the ballot this fall. The rewrite was necessary in order to satisfy a ruling in March that the original title of the measure (“Voter Protection Act”) was misleading to voters because it “fail[ed] in several respects to accurately inform citizens as to the subject matter on which they are asked to vote.”

  • Fearing that a referendum on an onerous voter suppression law might drive progressives to the polls in November, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed legislation last week that partially rolls back the omnibus election bill passed last year. Advocates in the state had already submitted 318,460 signatures to place the initiative for repeal on the ballot — far beyond the 231,000 needed. Though Ohioans will be spared some the bill’s most draconian effects, such as restricting poll worker assistance and preventing counties from mailing unsolicited absentee ballots, one key provision will remain: the elimination of early voting on the three days before an election. It is still unclear whether the initiative to fully repeal the law will remain on the ballot this fall.

  • A new Mississippi voter ID law is running into an implementation problem: lack of money. Though the state’s commitment to provide free photo ID cards to any voter who needs one has formed the basis of Mississippi’s case for preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — which requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before changing any election procedures — legislators did not actually appropriate funds to make the cards. The state did, however, approve a $495,000 line item in the secretary of state’s budget to pay lawyers in case the voter ID law is challenged.

Complementing efforts at the state level, there has also been federal progress in taking on the coordinated right-wing attack on voting rights:

  • Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against Shelby County, Alabama’s lawsuit challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court found that the number of proposed voting changes denied by the DOJ because of a likely discriminatory effect had remained steady for nearly thirty years — a fact reinforced by other findings that instances of voter discrimination were overwhelmingly found in southern areas under Section 5’s jurisdiction.

  • U.S. House Democrats also introduced a comprehensive bill last week entitled “The Voter Empowerment Act.” The aim of the legislation is twofold: expanding the franchise and making it easier for voters to stay on the rolls. One cornerstone of the bill involves modernizing the patchwork of voter registration systems across the states by enabling online voter registration, Election Day registration, and automatic voter registration at government offices so that mobile Americans can keep their information current. The legislation further requires states to offer fifteen days of early voting, which would afford the many voters juggling families and work more flexibility to get to the polls. Finally, the legislation would automatically reenfranchise ex-felons once they finish serving their sentence as well as ban misinformation and other deceptive practices. Current laws across the states vary widely, but improving these laws would be particularly beneficial to low-income communities and people of color.

Though voter ID bills and other voter suppression measures continue to advance in several states, these recent victories hopefully signal a slowing of the momentum that devastated voting rights last year.

Full Resources from this Article

Voter Suppression Campaigns Hit Roadblocks

 

The Lincoln County Journal — No photo ID amendment on the November ballot
NECN.com — Analysis: Miss. voter ID law not yet fully funded
Reuters — Appeals court affirms minority voting rights law
Brennan Center — 2012 Summary of Voting Law Changes
The Nation — Democrats Counter GOP Voting Restrictions

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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