Voter ID

We Need to Build a Voting-Rights Movement

The time has come to translate widespread outrage about voter suppression into momentum for an actionable voting-rights agenda.

By Rep. John Conyers and Barbara Arnwine
APRIL 14, 2016

First published in the Nation

The spring of 1966 was a harrowing yet hopeful period in America’s electoral history. In March of that year, the Voting Rights Act survived a Supreme Court challenge from the attorney general of South Carolina. Civil-rights campaigners could finally breathe at least a tentative sigh of relief as public officials across the country began initial preparations for the first federal election following passage of the landmark law for which King and countless others had toiled for years.

Fast-forward 50 years, and the scene is just as harrowing, but—tragically—far less hopeful. Voter-suppression tactics in 2016 are spreading like a virus in our body politic. In the first presidential primaries since the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the VRA and opened the floodgates for passage of voter-suppression laws in states, the impacts are already evident. Whereas voting rights were ascendant in 1966, voter-suppression tactics are spreading in 2016. Whereas Congress was moving in the right direction in 1966, in 2016, it’s often conspicuously absent.

The challenge this year—the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the VRA—isn’t just protecting free and open access to the ballot; it is also rekindling the fire that forced federal action on voting rights. This means reigniting a national movement for restoration of the Voting Rights Act, vigorous federal enforcement of electoral rights, and a reversal of anti-democratic state voter-suppression laws. With our country at a political turning point, time is of the essence.

As The Nation’s Ari Berman and others have methodically reported, the far-right’s well orchestrated voter suppression strategy—focusing on voter ID laws, purging of voter rolls, polling place reduction, and rolling back early voting requirements—has actually resulted in a rekindling of Americans’ 1960s-style resolve in defense of the right to vote. Look at Aracely Calderon, a naturalized citizen from Guatemala, who stood at the back of a 700-person, four-block line and waited five hours to vote in the Arizona primary. Or Dennis Hatten, an African-American Marine veteran, who enduredseemingly endless bureaucratic hurdles to get a Wisconsin photo ID after being told his other forms of identification—including a veteran’s ID—were insufficient under that state’s new draconian voter-ID law. There is no shortage of courage and grit in the face of these abuses.

However, we need more than individual resolve to overcome the systemic injustice of voter suppression. We need a broad-based movement for legislative change. Many voter-ID laws—which 36 states have now enacted in varying forms—will have their first test in the 2016 general election. An analysis by Nate Silver for The New York Times shows that these laws can decrease turnout by between between 0.8 and 2.4 percent—a potentially decisive amount in highly competitive elections. Other academic researchsupports anecdotal findings that voter-ID laws have disproportionate impacts on minorities and immigrants, expanding the participation gap between white and nonwhite members of the electorate.

The time has come to translate widespread outrage about voter suppression into momentum for an actionable voting-rights agenda. The first step is building awareness of the legislative fixes that are available right now.

In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Shelby ruling—which paved the way for widespread state voter suppression by eliminating the requirement that jurisdictions with histories of discrimination obtain Department of Justice preclearance for any changes to voting laws—there was hope that Congress would act to mitigate the damage. Then-House majority leader Eric Cantor traveled to Selma with Representative John Lewis’s civil-rights pilgrimage and declared his intention to find a bipartisan solution. Unfortunately, in the wake of Cantor’s departure, the Republican Congress has balked at even discussing the issue. Both the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendments Act, HR 885, and the Voting Rights Advancement Act, HR 2867, are viable options for Congress to turn the tide against state-based voter suppression tactics. While not a panacea, these proposed post-Shelby VRA fixes would help end voter-access crises of the kind already on display in Arizona, North Carolina, and elsewhere by restoring the preclearence requirement in up to 13 states.

Voter protection is just the start of a legislative agenda for election integrity–which must also address issues like modernization of voting machines, absentee balloting, willful misinformation, felon disenfranchisement, partisan election administration, untrained election staff, and many others. On April 21, we’ll be participating in a special briefing on Capitol Hill—including the Rev. William Barber, Ari Berman, and others—to draw attention to the crisis of election integrity and to identify policy options for restoring our democratic institutions. This is the first of a series of efforts to bring the rising passion for voter protection to the halls of Congress.

The cause of voter protection is unique in that it can unite people from across the disparate areas of the progressive movement. Whether someone cares most about civil rights, campaign finance, climate change, reproductive rights, or global peace—fair and transparent elections are an absolute requirement for success. Election protection demands a fusion movement.

We’ve seen what happens when people are mobilized and organized in strategic action to defend the right to vote. Though African Americans were nearly absent from voter rolls in the deep south in the early 1960s, by late 1966, just four of the traditional 13 Southern states had African-American voter-registration levels under 50 percent. By 1968, even Mississippi had a 59 percent registration rate among African Americans. That progress was directly attributable to an indefatigable people’s movement that achieved tangible legislative change.

This year, voting-rights advocates are rightfully rushing to address the short-term barriers to the ballot box—getting people the required IDs, ensuring the presence of adequate polling sites, and protecting people from being purged from voter rolls. This is essential work. But we must also seize this moment and build broad momentum for a long-term election integrity agenda that can take hold in municipal buildings, in statehouses, and on Capitol Hill. 

Paul Davis files lawsuit against Kris Kobach over purging of suspended voters list

Paul Davis filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach over a new rule that will remove names from the suspended voters list.

Davis, a Lawrence attorney who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2014, said federal law prohibits Kobach from “purging voters.”

Alabama to stop issuing driver’s licenses in counties with 75% black registered voters

The state of Alabama, which requires a photo ID to vote, announced this week that it would stop issuing driver’s licenses in counties where 75 percent of registered voters are black.

Due to budget cuts, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said that 31 satellite DMVoffices would no longer have access to driver’s licenses examiners, meaning that residents will need to travel to other counties to apply for licenses. The move comes just one year after the state’s voter photo ID law went into effect.

AL.com’s John Archibald asserted in a column on Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice should open an investigation into the closings.

“Because Alabama just took a giant step backward,” he wrote. “Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters. That’s Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes, Bullock, Perry, Wilcox, Dallas, Hale, and Montgomery, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. Alabama, thanks to its budgetary insanity and inanity, just opted to close driver license bureaus in eight of them.”

“Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one,” Archibald explained. “But maybe it’s not racial at all, right? Maybe it’s just political. And let’s face it, it may not be either… But no matter the intent, the consequence is the same.”

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The Big Lie Behind Voter ID Laws

By the New York Times Editorial Board


Election Day is three weeks off, and Republican officials and legislators around the country are battling down to the wire to preserve strict and discriminatory new voting laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court — no friend to expansive voting rights — stepped in and blocked one of the worst laws, a Wisconsin statute requiring voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. A federal judge had struck it down in April, saying it would disproportionately prevent voting by poorer and minority citizens. Last month, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit allowed it to go into effect, even though thousands of absentee ballots had been sent out under the old rules.

There was sure to be chaos if the justices had not stayed that appeals court ruling, and their decision appears to be based on the risk of changing voting rules so close to an election. But they could still vote to uphold the law should they decide to review its constitutionality.

Similar laws have been aggressively pushed in many states by Republican lawmakers who say they are preventing voter fraud, promoting electoral “integrity” and increasing voter turnout. None of that is true. There is virtually no in-person voter fraud; the purpose of these laws is to suppress voting.

In Texas, where last week a federal judge struck down what she called the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, there were two convictions for in-person voter impersonation in one 10-year period. During that time, 20 million votes were cast. Nor is there any evidence that these laws encourage more voters to come to the polls. Instead, in at least two states — Kansas and Tennessee — they appear to have reduced turnout by 2 percent to 3 percent, according to a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office.

Voter ID laws, as their supporters know, do only one thing very well: They keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls. In most cases, this means voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs.

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The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud

By Philip Bump 

Almost no one shows up at the polls pretending to be someone else in an effort to throw an election. Almost no one acts as a poll worker on Election Day to try to cast illegal votes for a candidate. And almost no general election race in recent history has been close enough to have been thrown by the largest example of in-person voter fraud on record.

That said, there have been examples of fraud, including fraud perpetrated through the use of absentee ballots severe enough to force new elections at the state level. But the slew of new laws passed over the past few years meant to address voter fraud have overwhelmingly focused on the virtually non-existent/unproven type of voter fraud, and not the still-not-common-but-not-non-existent abuse of absentee voting.

In August, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University Law School, detailed for Wonkblog 31 instances of documented, in-person voter fraud that would have been prevented by stricter rules around identification at the polling place. The most severe instance Levitt outlined involved as many as 24 voters in Brooklyn who tried to vote under assumed names.

There are almost no elections in which 24 votes makes a significant difference, particularly at the federal level. The graph below compares the vote total and the margin of victory for every race with less than a million votes in general elections since 2006.

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