It’s easy to get carried away in the drama of certain demagogue figures or intrigued by a Democratic-Socialist. But for now, let’s focus on the most crucial part of any democratic election: voting. More specifically, the prevalence of increasingly restrictive voting regulations.
In thirty-three states, a form of identification is required in order to vote or receive a ballot for an election. The current Voter ID laws however, violate the Voting Right Acts creating an unconstitutional poll tax and discrimination against minorities.
Judge Catharina Haynes from the Fifth Circuit stated at a panel discussion,
“The State’s stated purpose in passing SB 14 centered on protection of the sanctity of voting, avoiding voter fraud, and promoting public confidence in the voting process… We recognize the charged nature of accusations of racism, particularly against a legislative body, but we also recognize the sad truth that racism continues to exist in our modern American society despite years of laws designed to eradicate it.”
Lawmakers like Hayes supporting these regulations claim that increased voting requirements are crucial in preventing voter fraud. However, there is practically no proof of significant voter fraud in U.S. elections. As preliminary elections take place before the November 2016 Presidential election, their growing fear that the use of “protective” voting laws will mainly impact the political participation of minorities who traditionally vote in favor of the Democratic party.
I agree with the use of a basic photo ID or a provisional ballot if one needs more time to get a photo ID. I am also aware that some issues, like homelessness or lack of public transportation which leads to an inability to get documents providing citizenship, are not uncommon. However, Virginia ID laws leave no room for these very real issues low-income and minority Virginians face.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is rightfully-praised as a cumulative and tangible result of the Civil Rights Movement. There are two key parts of the VRA: section 5 requires states and localities with a history of extreme racial oppression to receive federal approval from the U.S. Attorney General before making changes to voting requirements, and section 4(b) created the criteria for which states should be considered for the laws oversight. These sections helped stop the numerous attempts to block minorities from voting in the decades since the VRA has passed.
In June 2013, however, the Supreme Court reached a 5 to 4 vote and struck down section 4(b) in the landmark case Shelby County v. Holder. The justices believed the section was no longer applicable to modern America and was now a threat to the “equal sovereignty of the states.” The decision also made section 5 of the VRA null and void. Suddenly, for the first time in nearly 50 years, politicians were given free reign to limit who had access to votes without having to be accountable to the Attorney General or the DOJ.
This repeal has affected states in a variety of ways, including Virginia. The state implemented the new restrictive voter ID laws quickly and failed to properly give citizens the appropriate amount of time to adjust to this change. A mandate like this should have been given out at least a year before it was enacted into the law.
If a citizen shows up without a photo ID, they are still allowed to vote and their vote will be counted as long as they provide proof of ID by noon on the Friday following the election. Yet there are still increasing reports that citizens without an ID were turned away without being presented this option. This shows a manipulative use of power and information by those running the booths.
Furthermore, CityLab found that in the 2014 Midterm election, around 197,000 Virginians did not have an ID to vote. According to data, the state election department has only issued around 4,000 cards since then. The numbers are a tangible example of how the repeated rhetoric of “protecting the vote” is skewed by what are actually attempts to curb the vote.
A more familiar and controversial perpetuator of voter disenfranchisement is former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Among a series of other charges, McDonnell is facing a Supreme Court trial for his role in promoting racial gerrymandering. The case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, argues that McDonnell and other Virginia lawmakers redistricted Congressional District 3 to overpopulate the area with a primarily black population so their vote would result in minimal influence in elections while also diminishing their representation in the rest of the Commonwealth.
According to an exit poll done by the Brennan Center of Justice, since the Republican party in Virginia began placing restriction of voting initiatives in 2010, the Democratic vote has dropped by 20.9 percent while the Republican vote increased by 109 percent.
This trend has been repeated throughout the country and it has been led by conservatives who claim that they are in favor of these measures because it protects the integrity of the voting process. However, these measures are increasingly being found to remove civic tools from disenfranchised, minority and Democratic-leaning areas by implementing regulations that are making it difficult for them to vote in election. During election season, these same measures also curb the vote and strengthen the already strong influence of more affluent, white and Republican-leaning areas in Virginia and throughout the country.
It is becoming harder to deny that these measures have nothing to do with protecting our voting process. But rather are in play to protect the strength of their party while diminishing the influence of as many Americans as necessary, even if it means completely undermining the democratic process and the whole concept of “equality for all.”
Siona Peterous, Contributing Columnist