President Barack Obama won the 2012 presidential election despite overwhelming obstacles placed in Democratic voters way to prevent them from voting. Republican lawmakers and GOP suppression groups wanted to take the vote away from minorities and young adults. To the surprise of many, minorities came out in force to show that their vote and voice mattered. Blacks and Hispanics voted in larger numbers than those of 2008. The young adult voters from 18-29 came out to support President Obama in the first election. And in 2012, they came back again, joined by many more who were not able to vote in the 2008 election. Women also came out in support of president Obama. But President Obama lost overall white voters by 15%.
Many voters endured long lines and confusing information to vote. I followed one colleague’s journey who was monitoring Florida during early voting. Voters in some black precincts waited to vote on the Saturday before the election from 7:00 PM close time to after 1:00 AM. That’s unacceptable. Those in Ohio didn’t fare much better. It was as if voters were facing a challenge or obstacle course in order to vote. And at the close of voting in many key states, some voters in line were voting hours after the polls closed. Voting is a right guaranteed by the U.S. constitution. It should not be like jumping hurdles. Many observers in other countries wondered why America does not make it easy to vote.
During the election, the Justice department had approximately 780 observers in 23 states to ensure the election was in compliance with the 1965 Voter Rights Act. The Obama campaign had thousands of attorneys across the country to protect the right to vote. There were almost 2,000 in VA where I was stationed. And the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law had attorneys stationed in states across the country to ensure that election laws were complied.
The difficulties experience by many voters is unacceptable in our society. Long lines, confusion over the ID needed, if any, generated by the litigation due to unnecessary voter ID laws, faulty machines—counting votes for President Obama for Romney, among many others were the norm for some areas. In Pennsylvania, voter ID was not needed to vote in the 2012 election due to a court order putting the new law on hold. Yet, that did not stop many election officials from asking for ID. And some students in Pennsylvania were told that their student ID was expired and could not be used. In fact, no ID was needed.
Civil rights organizations should conduct a study on the problems on election day. A report should be prepared to show the types of problems incurred and the extent of the problems. And then, those of us who oppose any type of unnecessary ID for voting should continue to fight through the courts. Many officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Congressman John Lewis have said that the vote is sacred. If something is sacred, you treat it with respect. The vote and voters were not respected in many precincts on election day.
Overturning unnecessary enacted laws which confuse voters and make it difficult and in some cases, impossible to vote, should be an ongoing task of those committed to justice and fairness in voting. Democracy demands no more and should expect no less.
Debbie Hines is founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national, international and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Washington Times among others. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.