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Why We Need Legislation to Strengthen Voting Rights

By Lane Hagar

Increase voting rights

Shortly after taking office, President Trump falsely claimed he lost the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election because of voter fraud. The simple truth is that voter fraud is not the widespread problem Trump asserts it is. Rather, the true threat to our elections in the United States is voter suppression.

Voter suppression wears many masks. In the past ten years, states across the country have passed legislation that makes it harder for people to vote. For example, several states have implemented voter ID laws that disproportionately affects minorities, lower-income voters, and the elderly. These voter ID laws differ in their respective levels of rigidity, but in some states, individuals will be barred from even casting a provisional ballot if they lack a government-issued identification card. There are no methodologically sound studies that support the claim that voter fraud is a widespread problem or that it happens at any significant level. If that is the case, why do we require strict voter ID laws?

Voter ID laws are the most recognizable form of voter suppression as the controversy surrounding them often makes the news. But states have also attacked meaningful voter access to the ballot box in more subtle ways such as:

  • Reducing early voting periods;
  • Purging voter rolls;
  • Limiting voter registration drives;
  • Gerrymandering;
  • Reducing access to absentee ballots; and
  • Ending same-day registration and voting

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 represented a key defense against these kinds of restrictive voting laws. Passed during the height of the American Civil Rights movement, Congress designed the VRA to address the gaps left from the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Crucial to the success of the VRA was the “coverage formula” and “preclearance provision” (See Sec. 4 & Sec. 5). The “coverage formula” targeted specific states and counties with a history of racial discrimination based on election turnout data. The “preclearance provision” mandated that those states and counties identified by the “coverage formula” obtain preclearance from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or the Attorney General of the United States prior to enacting new qualifications or prerequisites for voting.

Unfortunately, in 2013, the United States Supreme Court effectively gutted the VRA in its Shelby County v. Holder decision when it declared the coverage formula unconstitutional. Without a coverage formula, the preclearance provision became unworkable. The elimination of protections afforded through the VRA has led to a spike in restrictive voting laws being passed in states across the country. In fact, some previously covered states started developing new election laws within hours of the decision.

Voting should be made easier in the United States, not harder. Efforts by state legislatures to suppress the vote should concern all Americans. Our democracy is crippled when people are barred from utilizing the mechanism that makes their voices heard in the halls of government. The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, (H.R. 4) which would restore those key voting rights protections in the VRA, has been introduced but it needs YOUR help in order for it to become law.

That’s why we’re joining with partners on August 6th, the day that marks the 54th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, to demand that voting rights protections be restored. Please sign up to attend (or even host) one of the many vigils that will take place around the country that day to shine a light for democracy and highlight the importance of strong voter protection laws and call on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act!