VRA anniversary

VRA anniversary leaves little to celebrate

The Voting Rights Act was signed into law forty-nine years ago, seeking to effectively extend the franchise in-full to black Americans. Although its initial enforcement at state and local levels often ranged from the superficial to the entirely absent, that historic legislation served as the foundation for subsequent civil rights suits that forced governments to take action against a wide range of impediments to the polls that remained. It’s unsurprising, then, that African American voter participation eventually increased  following the VRA’s passage and enforcement. It’s equally unsurprising that state governments passed legislation creating new obstacles to full voting participation just weeks after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision reduced the VRA protections.

One year after Shelby, we’re witnessing voter suppression reincarnate in states throughout the nation. Voter ID requirements, reductions in early voting periods and locations, elimination of same-day voter registration, limiting protections from voter roll purges, and reducing access to absentee ballots: all thinly veiled voter suppression measures shrouded in sudden calls for greater “election integrity.” Justin Levitt of the Loyola University Law School offered an insightful review and analysis of some of these adventures in absurdity in a guest WonkBlog post today:

Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam…Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.

Results from Levitt’s ongoing survey of voter fraud illustrate the staggering difference that exists between what fraud voter-ID supporters allege and what actually exists. Since 2000, he reports, nationally there have been only 31 instances of voter impersonation at the polls that a voter ID may have helped to prevent. Moreover, Levitt posits that of the 3,000 voters turned away for lacking the proper ID in the few states that have already rolled out voter ID laws, most were highly likely legitimate voters.

31 cases in 14 years does not a crisis make. Voter ID requirements serve only to prevent full voter participation. Where’s the integrity in that? This is the new war on voting, and these are the new front lines. Where will you stand?

Post by SCSJ Troan Interns Xan McKnight and Sarah Moncelle