“Voting is how we demonstrate our power…and we have an equal opportunity, or should to express that power”- Julie Fernandes, Advocacy Director, Open Society Foundations.
The "United State of Voting," a voting rights town hall meeting, was hosted by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge at Cleveland State University on the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The town hall style forum emphasized both the importance of understanding the historical context of voting-and the importance of voting in communities across the nation. The matter is especially timely, with the November election quickly approaching-what will be the most “consequential election” of our lifetimes-a sentiment shared by both the panel, specifically Congressman James Clyburn (SC-6), and audience members alike.
The discussion began with a conversation about Golden Week, something, that as of late is still being discussed by the courts. Golden Week allows for a week of in-person voting at the same time of registration-a tool that has been used primarily by minority communities, and made it possible for approximately 60,000 voters to cast their ballots in the 2008 General Election and approximately 80,000 ballots to be cast in the 2012 General Election (MSNBC). This same law that is currently before the courts would also reduce the number of days the Board of Elections is open for early in-person voting from 35 days to just 28 days.
The argument that “Golden Week” and reducing the number of days for early in-person voting prior to an election, was not seen by the panel as an effective way to reduce voter fraud (the states reasoning behind the appeal after the district court ruling, although illegal voting/fraud represents just 0.02% of registered voters), but instead, a continued addition to the list of restrictions and hardships that are being put in place to make it more difficult to vote (MSNBC). These strategies are in direct opposition with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, specifically section 2 and in direct violation with the 14th Amendment-which states; “ equal protection under law” (U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment).
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was implemented in order to enforce the 15th Amendment-which identified; “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (United States Constitution, 15th Amendment). Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), it has both been amended and reauthorized by congress many times-the most recent of which took place in 2006. However, even with such legislation in place, panelists stated with grave concern the Supreme Court Case, (The Shelby County v. Holder decision), in 2013 and explained how the decision to dismantle Section 4 of the VRA has undermined the very premise of voting being a right, and instead reframes the discussion to voting being a privilege.
Section 4 states that states and local governments with histories of discrimination must go to the federal government in order to obtain approval if the state or municipality wishes to change voting policies. The 5-4 decision, has made it possible for states and local governments to implement restrictive policies that negatively impact minority and low-income voters. From I.D. laws to purge processes- there has been and will continue to be a devastating impact on vulnerable populations. Here is a list of the 17 states that will have new restrictions that will be in place for the 2016 election or have been tightened (Brennan Center for Justice):
- Alabama: a photo I.D. is now required to vote (2014). Proof of citizenship is now required when registering to vote using the national form (2016).
- Arizona: new legislation in place to limit mail-in ballot collection. Now, unless you are a direct family member, caregiver or postal service employee-it is now a felony to collect and turn-in another person’s ballot (2016).
- Georgia: Proof of citizenship is now required when registering to vote using the national form (2016). Early in-person voting was reduced from 45 days to 21 days (2011).
- Indiana: legislation now in place to allow an additional official at polling locations to inforce I.D. requirements (2014).
- Kansas: a photo I.D. is now required to vote (2012). Proof of citizenship is now required when registering to vote using the federal form (2016).
- Mississippi: a photo I.D. is now required to vote (2011).
- Nebraska: reduced days for early voting (2014).
- New Hampshire: Voter without acceptable forms of I.D. must take a photo at the polls and attach it to an affidavit (2015).
- North Carolina: Same day registration was eliminated, as was early registration for 16-and -17-year-olds (2014), photo I.D. now required to vote (2016).
- North Dakota: a photo I.D. is now required to vote (2015).
- Ohio: Reduced early voting period/elimination of Golden Week (before the courts after state appealed the decision that the new restrictions were unconstitutional), absentee and provisional ballot rules changed (2014).
- Rhode Island: Voter without acceptable forms of I.D. must take a photo at the polls and attach it to an affidavit (2014).
- South Carolina: photo I.D. is requested to vote.
- Tennessee: Photo I.D. is required to vote, a reduced early voting period, and proof of citizenship is now required to register to vote (2014).
- Texas: a photo I.D. is now required to vote (2014), and voting registration drive restrictions went into effect in 2011.
- Virginia: a photo I.D. is now required to vote (2014), and there are also strict rules on third-party voter registration that were implemented in 2013.
- Wisconsin: a photo I.D. is now required to vote (2015), reduced time period for early voting (2014), and implemented restrictions on individual registration (2011).
While the most important takeaway from this event is the distinction that voting is a right, not a privilege-as the VRA and constitution suggest. The panel reiterated the fact that there is still more we can do to change this wave of restrictive voting laws in our country, the first being to start the conversation. In this political climate you often hear, “how do I chose between the lesser of two evils” and instead of showing up to vote, these individuals opt-out. However, as Congressman Bennie Thompson (MS-2) stated “on November 9th we will have a new president, whether you vote or not” and we need to continue to work together to prevent the voter apathy and exhaustion that has resulted as a byproduct of a very tumultuous election year and panel members drew a clear parallel to the recent events happening in Europe with Brexit-explaining that this is what happens when people opt-out of the process.
The frustration is clear, but there are a variety of ways we can continue to fight for equitable voting practices. The first being, restoring Section 4 of the VRA. The second is to continue voter registration drives, and continue with community education-this will be a key component if we wish to increase voter turnout. If you do see violations against people’s right to vote, you can report those violations to the following national hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE, a national coalition of voting rights advocates working to “advance and defend the right to vote”.
More Information on the above topics can be found below:
For new voting restrictions and an interactive map:
Voting restrictions in Ohio:
More information on the Shelby County v. Holder Decision:
Also, we have a ton of information on our website by clicking on the "Vote" button on the side of the website.
by Katy Carpenter
All opinions represent the views of those who sign the entry