opinion   |   column

COLUMN: Voter suppression still keeping minorities from the polls



Election Day, Nov. 6, is fast approaching. Americans who have not voted early will head to the polls and cast their ballots. But many voters will face difficulties in voting, even if they are eligible, registered beforehand and follow all the rules.

Shelby County v. Holder was a 2013 Supreme Court Case which found Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to be unconstitutional. The Justice Department no longer has to approve states’ changes to their voting laws as a result of this decision.

A report on minority voting rights access in the U.S. was issued by the federal Commission on Civil Rights in September. The commission found that in the past five years since the decision, “newly restrictive statewide voter laws” have been passed in at least 23 states.

These sort of laws include closing polling places, cutting early voting, purging potentially ineligible voters from electoral rolls and imposing stricter voter ID laws. The commission’s report found 61 lawsuits had been filed against states’ voting laws.

“This level of ongoing discrimination confirms what was true before 1965, when the Voting Rights Act became law, and has remained true since 1965: Americans need strong and effective federal protections to guarantee that ours is a real democracy,” said Commission Chair Catherine Lhamon to CNN.

It’s no secret that this sort of disenfranchisement disproportionately affects minority voters. Voter suppression is not a bipartisan effort. Between gerrymandering, strict voter ID laws and the attempted cancellation of voter registrations under Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in Georgia, it’s clear that this issue falls along party lines.

Before the Voting Rights Act, those who could not prove that they had completed a certain level of education had to pass purposefully confusing literacy tests. If they could not answer every question correctly in 10 minutes, they could not vote. The practice affected poor white voters, but disproportionately disenfranchised black voters.

Today, we have voter ID laws as a means of disenfranchisement. The requirements for government issued IDs do not account for the fact that many eligible voters do not have IDs that meet the standards or the paperwork to secure IDs that do. More often than not, these people are low-income, elderly, people of color and/or have disabilities. The suppression of these voices is not coincidental.

The same goes for the closing of polling locations. Many voters end up much farther from their polling locations as a result of these closures. Not everyone can travel the distance or wait at more overcrowded polls, which once again, disproportionately affects the aforementioned demographics.

Voter suppression silences minorities and skews election results. Its history is a despicable one of pure racism. This history is still unfolding today.

We must stop and consider that we overruled a part of our Voting Rights Act without doing anything to replace those protections. The federal Commission on Civil Rights has advocated that Congress “provide a streamlined remedy to review certain changes with known risks of discrimination before they take effect — not after potentially tainted elections.”

While a Supreme Court ruling cannot quickly be undone, change must happen somewhere. State governments are too partisan to legislate voting laws independently. Disenfranchisement becomes law too easily without review.

The reality of discrimination in America today is often lost on the more privileged among us. We must stop and let it sink in that in the U.S., in 2018, laws exist to prevent people from voting based on the color of their skin or economic status. They may not be as explicit as they once were, but their intent has not changed. Discrimination is alive and well, masquerading as bureaucracy and perhaps most frighteningly, protection of our democracy.

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