Voter Suppression: Millions of minorities and youth may be turned away on election day

The disenfranchisement of democratic leaning constituencies (including low-income, working, welfare, African American, Latino and student populations) has become a major focal point breeding political negativity. This is along with corruption in the voting process as our national election between Republican Mitt Romney and the President Democrat Barack Obama looms approximately six weeks on the horizon.

Adhering to the implementation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which was passed in 1993 under another Democrat, President Bill Clinton, has forced several states to challenge this law. States including Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Florida and Texas, are either petitioning federal or state courts to alter how their state implements NVRA.

The controversy over Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was sent (but not resolved) from the State Supreme court back to the lower court and asked for a judge to halt the law’s implementation, should he find that voters cannot get their documents easily. By a 4-2 decision, the State Supreme sent the case back to a Commonwealth Court judge, who initially said the controversial law could be implemented.

Judge Robert Simpson was asked by the higher court to issue an opinion before Oct. 2, roughly one month before election day. Just two months ago, during a hearing in the Pennsylvania State Court, political science experts testified that 1 million registered voters (about 12.7 percent of the state’s registered voters) did not have valid identification to vote under the new law. Both the local American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have complained that the new law would effectively disenfranchise a large number of voters who are African-American, Latino, elderly or in school.

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the lower court to once again look at its decision in the controversial voter ID law. Voting Rights advocates have said that this law would have disenfranchised as many as 750,000 individuals. State officials say it will take 90 days to implement the law and provide training to staff over the policies.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson told lawyers on Tuesday September 25 that the state’s controversial ID law may be blocked. “I think it’s a possibility there could be an injunction here,” said Simpson, after hearing testimony on whether some voters would be disenfranchised.

The Commonwealth Court is to file its supplemental opinion on or before Oct. 2, over deployment of ID cards as attached by the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, on Monday, September 24, because of the controversy of South Carolina’s voter ID law, there has been a filing concerning the disenfranchisement there as well. The issue of tens of thousands of black resident’s disenfranchisement was brought up by the U.S. Justice Department and the League of Women Voters that it will be harder for black residents to vote.

According to USA Today, state officials told the courts that “South Carolina’s voter ID law doesn’t discriminate against blacks and allows minorities to cast ballots even if they don’t have proper identification.”

Monday Sept. 24’s closing arguments followed a trial that will determine if the ID law that necessitates a valid government-issued ID to vote will pass. Justice officials described the law as discriminatory after the South Carolina enacted it in May 2011. The state eventually filed suit in response.

Harold Christopher Bartolomucci, a Washington lawyer representing South Carolina, said “the measure passed the state Legislature only after minority lawmakers — who at one point staged a walkout to protest the proposal — agreed to support it.”

According to USA Today, Justice Department attorney Matthew Colangelo said “The state points out that only 1.9 percent of South Carolina voters lack valid ID. About 8.8 percent of registered black voters in South Carolina lack valid ID, twice as many as whites.”

Down in the southern part of the United States, Florida civil right groups are fighting over voting registrations. The state passed a law in 2011 that cut back on the number of early days to vote in the federal elections. The state also made penalized voters who fail to update addresses after moving within the state. They have also made it harder to conduct third-party voter registration drives.

According to a study written by Daniel A. Smith, a political science professor from University of Florida, almost half of the nearly 1.1 million black population that voted in the 2008 general election in Florida voted during the early voting period.

A federal judge in Tallahassee on the week of Monday, September 17, threw out the registration-drive changes after the local Language of Women Voters was sued. The other parts of the law have yet to be ruled out. These are currently being challenged by state civil right groups and also Congresswoman Corrine Brown.

“There’s been a full-fledged assault on the voting rights of minorities in Florida,” Smith said to USA Today.
But Republican Governor Rick Scott told USA Today that these laws are “meant to rule out fraud and do not target any specific demographic group.”

In late August, a federal court struck down the Texas ID-law which would have required voters to show government issued identifications to cast ballots in the November federal election.

The federal court said ruling placed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor” by charging those voters who lack proper documentation fees to obtain election ID cards.

There were three-judges present in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia as all three judges called the Texas voter ID law “the most stringent of its kind in the country.” Governor Rick Perry along with State Attorney General Greg Abbott made a vow that would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The same three judges then found that the Texas Legislation had discriminated against minority voters and that it was intentional. They did this by drawing up electoral district maps, the same section was cited in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Senate Bill-14 requires voters to show one of five forms of ID: a driver’s license, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military ID card, a citizenship certificate, or a license to carry a handgun. If an individual does not have any of the five types of ID, they have an option to obtain an ‘election ID certificate.’ This is a government issued card similar to a driver’s license. Although this card is free, prospective voters would need to travel to a state Department of Public Safety and prove their identity by showing a birth certificate. This would cost them roughly $22. The federal judges believe that these costs (traveling and fees) for the poor and minorities are unfair.

The federal judges released a 56-page ruling on Texas’ voter-ID law, stating: “While a 200-250 mile trip to and from a D.P.S. office would be a heavy burden for any prospective voter, such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor,” referencing the many counties in Texas that do not have a Department of Public Safety office of their own.

Governor Perry among other Texas Republicans argued that to have voter ID laws was a perfectly constitutional way of preventing voter fraud. They also truly believed that factors such as poverty would not be taken into consideration (legally) when it came time to determine if a law complies with the Voting Rights Act.

United States Attorney General, Eric H. Holder Jr., told the N.A.A.C.P. in July that the Texas law’s requirements amounted to a poll tax, praised the ruling.

“The court’s decision today and the decision earlier this week on the Texas redistricting plans not only reaffirm but help protect the vital role the Voting Rights Act plays in our society to ensure that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted,” Holder stated to The New York Times.

Voter ID laws enacted in Republican controlled states have created in recent year s have created a national controversy. Supporters, mostly conservatives, say that such restrictions are needed to prevent fraud. But critics, mostly liberals, say voter impersonation fraud is rare and contend that the restrictions suppress turnout by legitimate voters who are less likely to have a photo ID card and who tend to support Democrats, like students, the indigent and minorities.

The case could add to pressure on the question of whether Section 5 pertaining to voter registrations applications to be included in driver license and changes of address submitted to State motor vehicle offices must be given to election authorities. The Supreme Court is deciding whether to review an appeals court decision upholding the Voting Rights Act in the face of a constitutional challenge by Shelby County, Alabama. Texas is one of the states that is also challenging the constitution of the law in the case of voter IDs, along with Florida and Alaska.

–Joshua Eaton

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