Monday, January 20, 2014

For MLK Day, The Death Knell for Voting Rights

Yes, the proposed new voting rights bill is actually an anti-voter bill.

Fuck this shit. Every civilized country on the planet has federal voting laws, and ours should be simple: vote by mail, polls open 24-7 a full month before election day, same-day registration, sign in (no voter ID), redistricting by nonpartisan commission.

Anything less is a violation of civil rights.
On Thursday, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plan to introduce bipartisan legislation that will undo much of the damage done by the Roberts Court’s 5-4 decision to neuter a key prong of the Voting Rights Act. Since its enactment in 1965, the Voting Rights Act required states with a record of racial voter suppression to “preclear” any new voting laws with the Department of Justice or a federal court in D.C. The Supreme Court’s decision last June struck down the formula that determined which states are subject to this preclearance regime, effectively halting federal supervision of many states that were actively engaged in voter suppression.

Prior to the Roberts Court’s decision, nine states were subject in their entirety to the preclearance requirement, and parts of six others were also covered. Notably, much of the state of North Carolina, which recently enacted the most aggressive voter suppression law in the nation, was covered under the old formula.

The bipartisan fix to the Roberts Court’s decision creates a new formula that would initially lead to far fewer states being covered by preclearance. As the Nation’s Ari Berman explains, the new formula requires preclearance in states “with five violations of federal law to their voting changes over the past fifteen years,” and to localities “if they commit three or more violations or have one violation and ‘persistent, extremely low minority turnout’ over the past fifteen years.” The upshot of this new formula is that only four states, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas will immediately be subject to preclearance in their entirety. Notably, none of these four states are North Carolina, with its comprehensive voter suppression law.

The other piece of bad news is that the bipartisan bill creates a special carve-out for voter ID laws. Voter ID, which requires voters to show a photo ID before they can cast a ballot, are one of the most common voter suppression tactics in the country. Though their proponents claim that they are necessary to prevent voter fraud at the polls, such fraud is virtually non-existent. Indeed, a Wisconsin study found that just 0.00023 percent of votes are the product of in-person voter fraud, so a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit fraud at the polls.

What voter ID does accomplish that it removes many low-income, student and minority voters from the electorate, all of which are groups that tend to favor Democrats over Republicans. Yet, despite their impact on racial minorities, the bipartisan voting bill will not count voter ID laws as a violation of federal voting rights that that can be used to subject a state to preclearance. Berman reports that this special carve out for these racially discriminatory laws was necessary to secure the support of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and some other Republicans.

Kevin Drum has a great summary and analysis. He concludes:
So the odds seem pretty long against reviving preclearance. That may be a helluva note to usher in Martin Luther King Jr. Day with, but it's most likely the truth. Now that blacks and Hispanics identify so overwhelmingly as Democrats, Republicans simply have no incentive to make it easier for them to vote. Nor does it seem possible to shame them into doing it, as it was even eight years ago. The GOP has simply changed too much since 2006.

Half a century ago, the fight over the VRA was a fight between racists and everyone else. Today, it's a fight between Republicans and Democrats. You'd think that might make it an easier fight to win, not a harder one. But it's not.

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