Ninety-eight to zero. That was the vote of the United States Senate in July 2006 in favor of re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights law which this week came under withering — and disturbing — attack from conservative Supreme Court Justices during oral arguments in Shelby Co. v. Holder. At the very same time that Chief Justice Roberts was quoting dubious election statistics and Justice Scalia was claiming the protection of the right to vote was a "racial entitlement," states across the nation continued to press forward with voter suppression measures that underscored the need to continue to protect voting rights for all Americans:
In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two high-profile challenges affecting states directly: Shelby County v. Holder, a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as two cases on same-sex marriage. Arguments in the Voting Rights Act case are scheduled for February 27th, while arguments in the two marriage cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, are set for late March. States and the Obama administration are already filing briefs in advance of both cases. At the same time, efforts to advance marriage equality continued this week in state legislatures including Minnesota and New Jersey:
The images are still fresh: endless lines of voters waiting for hours outside polling places on Election Day merely to participate in the democratic process. In some states, these lines were exacerbated by partisan efforts to restrict access to the polls, including cutting back on early voting days, as well as antiquated registration systems and poll sites running out of ballots. A new analysis shows the wide disparities in time spent on line by voters across the fifty states and across different demographic groups.
With the long lines on Election Day still somewhat fresh in the minds of voters, and as the year kicks off with efforts to rig the electoral vote and lessen the impact of the votes of historically disenfranchised communities, lawmakers in some states are introducing proposals to expand and protect the vote:
Virginia's Senate leadership chose the occasion of Martin Luther King Day on Monday to push through a partisan redistricting bill, taking advantage of the absence of a legislator attending President Obama's inauguration. A separate effort in Virginia to change the way the state awards electoral votes in presidential elections ran into bipartisan opposition, even as lawmakers in other states were considering doing the same:
(With 2012 legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this is the fifth in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different policy areas across the fifty states. Read the full article here.)
With a close presidential election on the horizon, this year saw conservatives continuing to ramp up their voter suppression efforts. Party leaders in Pennsylvania and Florida admitted as much, confessing that their efforts were intended to benefit conservatives in time for the elections. However, attempts to stack the deck for partisan gain encountered a number of obstacles and were nowhere near as successful as they were last year, ultimately ensuring that — despite a continuing spate of efforts in legislatures, the courts, and by partisan elections officials to roll back the fundamental right to vote — 2012 was not the banner year that the right was hoping for. If 2011 was “The Year of Voter ID,” then 2012 will certainly go down as “The Year of Right-Wing Overreach,” as courts and federal enforcement agencies struck down such blatantly partisan tactics. Though the year is far from over and several important voter suppression battles have yet to be decided in advance of Election Day, there were some key victories for democracy that bode well for 2013. [Read More]
Though UFO sightings are more common than in-person voter impersonation, over thirty states introduced or carried over legislation focused on an almost entirely non-existent problem. These included an assortment of new voter ID proposals and measures to “strengthen” existing laws by requiring photo ID, but also some bills to expand the type of photo ID acceptable at the polls. The national right-wing strategy behind voter ID laws became clearer this year as the corporate backers of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were taken to task by the public for their support of state legislation to suppress the vote. [Read More]
Performing an important check on partisan right-wing legislators eager to tilt the electoral playing field in their states, the courts have made a number of important rulings that largely affirmed individuals’ right to register to vote and access the polls easily. [Read More]
Conservatives attempted to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment by using the same faulty rationale for voter ID laws — keeping non-citizens from “stealing” our elections — to push for a new initiative: purges of non-citizens from the voter rolls. [Read More]
2012 also featured some bright spots that bucked the trend of imposing barriers to registration and voting. From same day registration to online voter registration to eliminating waiting periods for ex-felons, progress was made on expanding voting rights in some states. [Read More]
Though more studies showed in 2012 that voter ID is a misguided, ineffective means of addressing electoral fraud, the upside of the conservative focus on “protecting the sanctity of the vote” and the rolls may be the highlighting of the need to update our antiquated, patchwork voter registration system. The components of voter registration modernization ensure that records are more accurate, opportunities for fraud are reduced, and that the overall process is more efficient — all while saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year, something that liberals and conservatives can agree upon.
If history is any indication, one of the biggest problems plaguing Election Day will be partisan misinformation campaign designed to skew the vote — not undocumented immigrants, as conservatives insist. The confluence of near-universally weak state laws on deceptive practices and a historically close election could result in record numbers of voters kept from the polls. Legislators should take advantage of public discussion of disenfranchisement to champion legislation that protects voters.
This fall, voters in some states and cities will have the chance to do more than just push back. Initiatives are on the ballot that would directly confront the destruction that austerity economics has wrought on communities, while building national momentum behind policies to revitalize our economy and protect our democracy. All kinds of issues are at stake, from workers’ rights to corporate influence in politics, to whether corporations and the luckiest few will pay their fair share in taxes. While voters will be electing a president, governors, Congress, and thousands of state legislators this November 6, here are a few places where a progressive vision will also be on the ballot:
In addition to the historic Supreme Court decisions on health care and immigration handed down last week, the Court also ruled recently on several important, elections-related cases as well – decisions which constitute a mixed bag for the health of America’s democracy.