President Obama won the 2012 presidential election despite an army of new GOP voter ID laws, suppression and intimidation tactics to deny the vote to many citizens, including minorities, young adults and seniors. The after effects of the voter ID laws and voter suppression tactics are still going on. Many minority voters, young adults and seniors were still unable to vote, voted provisionally, stood in long lines or had to pay the equivalent of a poll tax to exercise their right to vote.
Adding insult to injury, many voters after standing in long waiting lines ended up voting provisional ballots—many of which may not count. In Ohio, there are still 207,000 provisional ballots which won’t begin to be counted until November 17. That’s an insane number of provisional ballots. In Philadelphia, 27, 000 people voted by provisional ballot, almost double the number that did in 2008. A provisional ballot is cast in instances where problems arise such as where the voter is not on the poll books as a registered voter, has incorrect ID or other issue. They must vote via paper ballot that is placed in an envelope and not counted unless the problem is solved.
Republicans, since the 2008 election of President Obama, tried every ill- conceived tactic to prevent minorities, young adult and many senior citizens from voting in significant numbers. Those efforts backfired. Despite the GOP tactics, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and young adults came out in larger percentages than in the 2008 election. That does not mean the war on voter rights is over.
Court battles are still waging against some of these new voter laws. Some states’ laws while not in effect for 2012 may be in effect for the next election in 2014. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania voter ID laws were not in play for the 2012 election. The Supreme Court has agreed to take on an Alabama case on whether the Voter Rights Act should still apply. The states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia must seek federal approval before changing their voting laws. If anything the 2012 election taught us, the protections in the southern states under the Voter Rights Act are still needed.
And new battles need to 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 hours in minority neighborhoods as compared to less times in white precincts, purging of eligible voters, voter intimidation and a poll tax in many cases. As Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP stated having to take off from work and then stand in a line to vote for 8 hours amounts to a poll tax. During early voting in Florida, for example, polls closed on early voting at 7 p.m. but the last voter voted after 1:00 a.m. on the Saturday before the election. Florida’s Governor Rick Scott disallowed early voting on Sunday before the election. In the past, the Sunday before the election was a major GOTV day for blacks. In 2012 long lines were an understatement in parts of Florida.
Many voters after standing in long waiting lines ended up voting provisional ballots—which may not be counted. All of these problems caused by the new voter ID laws in states were unnecessary as study after study proved there was no in person voter fraud.
We do not need to come to the wrong conclusion 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.
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 voter ID laws, effectively denying them the right to vote and cast a ballot.
The fact that the election is over is not a reason to go back to sleep for 4 more years. It’s a time to stay active and become engaged, if you want change in this country. Now that the 2012 election has shown minorities and women flex their muscle, they need to continue flexing it. It will take a collective effort to bring about voting changes. Solutions are needed. Coalitions such as the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, the Advancement Project, NAACP, Color of Change, Voto Latino and La Raza must continue to fight these laws along with the Department of Justice.
The right to vote is the hallmark of democracy. It means everything in a democratic society. Non-partisan armies of lawyers were available on election day to protect the right to vote. We dodged a bullet for 2012. The voter ID gun is still loaded and aimed at minorities, young adults and seniors. It is loaded, aimed and set to fire again in 2014, unless we continue to fight these suppressive practices.
Stay tuned–Part II will cover some solutions.
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.