Americas

Why Is It So Hard for Some Americans to Vote? It's All About Race.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights president and CEO Wade Henderson had this to say about voter discrimination today: "We now have to fight in the courts and at the ballot box for every voter, and even our nation's best and most well-organized efforts will not meet the demand we're confronted with. Congress needs to restore the Voting Rights Act immediately."

Why is it so hard for some Americans to vote?

Worldpress.org has compiled a variety of U.S. sources and viewpoints.

Constitutional Rights Foundation: The most basic right of a citizen in a democracy is the right to vote. Without this right, people can be easily ignored and even abused by their government. This, in fact, is what happened to African American citizens living in the South following Civil War Reconstruction. Despite the 14th and 15th amendments guaranteeing the civil rights of black Americans, their right to vote was systematically taken away by white supremacist state governments.

theatlantic.com – 8/2/16: If new state voting restrictions occurred in a vacuum of history, perhaps the repeated failure of states to address racial inequality might be written off as simply bad policy. But the facts that they have resurfaced mostly in the Deep South and are continuations of a doctrine of disenfranchisement that first sprang up after Reconstruction are telling. In 1898, North Carolina Democratic Chairman Furnifold Simmons railed against “negro superiority” in the electorate and called on white men to do their duty to resist it. A year later, North Carolina Democrats passed poll tax and “grandfather clause” laws, two carefully crafted regulations that did not run afoul of anti-discrimination laws but certainly had purposeful disenfranchising effects. Compare that with Virginia Senator Carter Glass’s explicit desire to “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State” that led to similar laws and felony disenfranchisement, both of which were carefully crafted to not run afoul of anti-discrimination laws. Many of the states that rewrote their  constitutions at the end of Reconstruction—all with tightrope-precise language to remain within the letter of the law, of course—to deny black people the right to vote have been at the front of the queue for further voter restrictions in the past five years.

thenation.com – 7/29/16: There were widespread voting problems during North Carolina’s presidential primary in March that offered a disturbing preview of what to expect in the general election—students waited in three-hour lines, foreign-born US citizens were asked to spell their names to poll workers for no reason in an apparent literacy test, and elderly voters born during Jim Crow were turned away from the polls.

thinkprogress.org: As presidential candidates begin the year by gearing up for primary season, Republican-controlled state houses and lawmakers across the country are doing everything they can to suppress votes and to swing elections in their favor. … The 2016 election will be the first presidential contest in decades without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

brennancenter.org: This November, voters in 15 states will head to the polls with new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a high-stakes presidential election. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions. Those 15 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  This number decreased from 17 to 15 when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a series of voting restrictions in North Carolina in late July 2016, and a federal court enjoined North Dakota’s photo ID law in August 2016. Despite a recent court victory mitigating the impact of Texas’s restrictive voter ID law, the state is still included because its requirement is more restrictive than what was in place for the 2012 presidential election. This is part of a broader movement to curtail voting rights, which began after the 2010 election, when state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – 8/23/16: A confluence of factors has made the right to vote more vulnerable to racial discrimination than at any time in recent history. The need for additional election observers is paramount. The unprecedented weakening of the Voting Rights Act has led to a tidal wave of voter discrimination efforts nationwide and has required the United States to drastically scale back its own election monitoring program. In addition, a leading presidential candidate who has made the demonization of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities a hallmark of his campaign has recently urged supporters to challenge voters at polling sites nationwide.

commondreams.org - 8/23/16: Common Dreams has reported extensively on state efforts to restrict voting rights in the wake of the Shelby decision—and on the court rulings that show those attempts to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. Just this week, voting rights advocates won a significant victory in Wisconsin, when federal appeals court panel blocked a request to stay a lower court ruling that outlawed Republican-sponsored voting restrictions.

democracynow.org – 3/3/16: Republicans fear that a Donald Trump candidacy will cost their party not only a shot at the White House, but also control of the Senate and House of Representatives. That is where the torrent of restrictive voting laws comes in. The American Civil Liberties Union has noted that 10 states will be implementing new restrictive voting laws that will impact up to 80 million voters, and could decide the assignment of 129 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the election. Dale Ho of the ACLU writes, "These laws range from new hurdles to registration to cutbacks on early voting to strict voter identification requirements."

Race is central in this year’s bid for the White House and the struggle for racial justice and voting rights are inextricably linked. Instead of limiting who can cast a ballot, we should make voting more accessible and convenient for every American.  

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