Do you remember the first time you voted? Maybe it was as soon as you turned eighteen, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, caffeine-fueled college freshman. You did your research and thought critically about the candidates and the issues. You even went to your Poli-Sci professor’s office hours!
Now imagine, after doing all that, you were turned away. It could be for a reason as trivial as your ID not having a photo, being out of town on Election Day, or not having a ride to the voting station.
When the voting rights act was in full force, the federal government could prevent states from erecting these kinds of barriers to the ballot box. Now, thousands of people are unable to vote because of one Supreme Court decision.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court eviscerated provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states and municipalities with histories of restricting voter access to obtain Justice Department approval before altering their voting laws. The 5-4 majority thought the VRA's coverage formula was outdated, and left room for Congress to enact a new one. Two years later, however, Congress hasn’t made a move.
Though many feared that this decision created opportunities for state and local legislators to pass laws that disenfranchise certain communities or favor specific parties and candidates, few anticipated just how quickly action would be taken. On the very day of the Shelby ruling, Texas legislators announced the implementation of a voting law that requires photo identification when voting in elections, a plan previously blocked by the Justice Department. According to a federal court, the law would both “weigh more heavily on the poor” and have a clear racial impact given that “minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.” Over the next few months, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Alabama passed similarly controversial voter ID laws without any mechanism to vet these measures.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby has essentially rendered the Voting Rights Act toothless, unable to enforce the provisions that protect the rights of voters everywhere. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “the right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.” Restoring the Voting Rights Act's protections will ensure that our jewel keeps shining.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections
Tags: Voting Rights