The election is over but the Republicans’ war on voting rights is far from over. Alabama is now going after the heart of voter rights, section 5 of the 1965 Voter Rights Act. Just three days after the election, the Supreme Court agreed to take on an Alabama case on whether section 5 of the Voter Rights Act should still apply to states today. The nine states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia and municipalities and counties in seven other states, must seek federal approval before changing their voting laws, due to their past history of racial discrimination. Shelby County, Alabama sought to change its voting laws without the approval of the Justice Department.
Opponents of section 5 state that the “evils it was crafted to address have been long over”. If the 2012 election taught us anything, it is that these protections under the Voter Rights Act in these southern states and other municipalities are still needed. During the past election, Texas and South Carolina attempted to make changes to its voter laws by using photo voter ID laws. In Texas, the Justice Department denied approval and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed due to its discriminatory effect on minorities.
In the South Carolina case, the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C. approved the new law for future elections. However, Judges John Bates and Colleen Kollar- Kotelly concurred with the need for section 5 stating, “One cannot doubt the vital function that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act played here. Without the review process under the Voting Rights Act, South Carolina’s voter photo ID law certainly would have been more restrictive.” And for Rep. John Lewis (D. GA) who fought for civil and voting rights for blacks in the 1960’s said that 2012 voter ID laws are reminiscent of the past evils. In 2006, former President George W. Bush signed a bill extending the 1965 Voter Rights Act for an additional 25 years due to the continued need for it.
Republicans had a systemic plan known as Voter ID laws to disenfranchise many minorities, college students and young adults and deny them the right to vote in the 2012 election. Despite virtually no evidence of in person voter fraud, 37 states passed voter ID laws requiring some type of ID and other onerous conditions. The plan backfired and resulted in driving millions of those voters to the polls to vote for President Obama.
New battles must be fought to prevent these suppression practices from continuing and occurring in the next election—2014. The GOP new voter laws caused confusing ID problems, end of early voting days, long lines of over 30 minutes to up to 7 hour in many minority neighborhoods as compared to less times in white precincts, purging of eligible voters, voter intimidation and a poll tax in many cases In 2012 long lines were an understatement in many parts of the country.
We cannot incorrectly conclude that the system worked because of the large turnout of the affected groups. Far from it, the system failed. And changing it to make voting accessible for every eligible citizen must become a high priority before the next election. Many minority voters, young adults and college students were still unable to vote, voted provisionally, stood in long lines or had to miss work all day and had to pay the equivalent of a poll tax to exercise their right to vote.
For those persons who think the election issues are over—think again. 2014 will be here in no time. There is also the issue of those citizens, young and old who were not able to comply with the new voter ID laws, effectively denying them the right to vote and cast a ballot. And many laws that were not able to go into effect for the 2012 election, will be in effect for 2014 and beyond.
The right to vote is the hallmark of democracy. It means everything in a democratic society. And we must continue to fight to ensure that every voter votes and every vote counts.
The Supreme Court will hear the Shelby County, Alabama case this term. Arguments will probably be heard in the spring.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and 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.