The New Era of Voter Suppression

It is another election year.

Unfortunately, come this November, millions of US citizens who are eligible to vote will find it extremely hard to exercise that right. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, was a landmark legislation that outlawed all discriminatory voting practices that would otherwise be responsible for widespread disenfranchisement of voters.

Despite having such an historic and prominent legislative act in place, during each election year lawmakers introduces bills that claim not to exclude a specific class of citizen.  However, these proposed legislations create a series of bureaucratic obstacles that make it difficult for citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote. These types of tactics are used for voter suppression.

Some political leaders use voter suppression as a strategy to influence the outcome of an election. With November around the corner, state legislators in approximately 34 states have introduced an estimated 150 voter suppression bills.

The most common include:

  • Requirement of photo ID
  • Limiting early voting
  • Restriction of registration drives and
  • Imposition of onerous residency requirement

These tactics are usually geared towards the poor, elderly, minorities and young people.

One such state that has attempted the imposition of harsh voter suppression laws is the Republican-controlled state legislature of Florida. In 2011, state legislature passed HB 1355, which places a restriction on third-party voter registration groups. The bill requires that these third party groups submit completed registration forms within 48 hours of registration or be subject to fines. During any election year these third party groups, like the League of Women Voters, would often register hundreds of people to vote. However, the new bill forces these groups to ultimately stop voter registration drives. The matter was recently taken to the Federal Court, where a federal judge blocked the voter suppression bill claiming that it is the unconstitutional infringement on speech and voting rights. Other states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Mississippi have also imposed strict new voter suppression laws.

Obviously, the right to vote in the United States is under attack as our state legislators nationwide pass voter suppression laws in an attempt to prevent voter fraud. However, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, “voter fraud is irrational and it is not surprising that no credible evidence suggests a voter fraud epidemic.” Furthermore, after close analysis of the 2004 election in Ohio, the Brennan Center revealed that approximately 0.0009% of votes were fraudulent.

The numerous voter suppression laws that have been introduced by our state legislatures are of all different variation, but together lead to a considerable amount of problems for eligible voters to exercise their fundamental constitutional rights. Unfortunately, this current wave of infringement on US citizen’s civil liberty is the latest chapter of a not so heartening story of American voting rights. It is evident that members from both political parties have sometimes rejected fair democratic processes in hopes of controlling the outcome of elections. Acknowledging this reality has made many Americans cynical of laws that obstruct, what according to President Johnson is “the basic right, without which all others are meaningless”.

Undoubtedly, more will be at stake in the 2012 elections, as we question the democratic process of electing our new President, which just may be the result of the enactment of laws which ironically restrict this process.  In reality, these laws limit our fundamental voting rights and infringe on our civil liberties, which goes against the very principles of democracy which this country is based on.

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Photo Credit: zmblackhistorymonth2012.blogspot.com, politico.com, ldjackson.net

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