Voter Suppression Moves Ahead After Supreme Court OK’s Laws Restricting Voting

Voter suppression. It’s not just your grandfather’s problem any more. Over the past few years, Republican legislatures across the country have enacted a variety of laws that are intended to suppress the vote, all in the name of eliminating “voter fraud.” Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is giving the stamp of approval to most of those laws.

On October 18, the court issued an early morning decision allowing Texas to enforce their voter ID law, considered one of the strictest in the country, for the upcoming election. It is the fourth time the court has ruled on a case involving a state voting law in the past few weeks, and it is the third law the justices have upheld.

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In addition to approving the Texas law, the Supreme Court allowed Ohio to reduce the number of days for early voting. The court also said that North Carolina could refuse same day voter registration. Curiously, the court blocked the Wisconsin voter ID law, which was even more lax in the forms of identification allowed than the Texas law.

It is worth noting that Wisconsin has been solidly in the Democratic camp in recent national elections, while North Carolina and Ohio are “swing” states. With its increasing Hispanic population, Texas may be the next red state to move into that swing state category. Could these rulings by one of the most political courts in history be an attempt to keep several swing states in the Republican column, while throwing a bone to the Democrats by allowing them to keep Wisconsin?

Voter ID laws became popular after the 2010 elections brought Republican control to legislatures and governor’s mansions in a number of states. The ACLU provides a list of states where voter ID/voter suppression laws have been passed or proposed since 2013. Those states include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

The only way to win is cheat.

So said the theme song from the movie M*A*S*H. Indeed, that appears to be what the Republican party has decided. After routinely seeing their policies rejected by voters in most states, as soon as Republicans were able to get control of statehouses they went to work on what they like to call “protecting the integrity of the ballot.” They say they want to put an end to what they claim is “rampant” in person voter fraud. The problem with that is the integrity of the ballot is not, and has never been in jeopardy. In person voter fraud is almost non-existent.

The New Yorker published a piece by Jane Mayer in 2012, describing how the push for voter ID laws is largely the work of one man: Hans von Spakovsky, a laywer who worked for George W. Bush. Spakovsky most recently wrote a piece on the Heritage Foundation’s site, The Daily Signal, praising the Supreme Court’s decision on the Texas law. Spakovsky ridicules those who say that voter turnout is suppressed by voter ID laws.

Contrary to the claims made by the NAACP and other opponents in the Texas case (and believed by [Judge Nelva Gonzales] Ramos), 2013 voter turnout actually went up compared to 2011 levels. This held true throughout the state, including in heavily minority counties such as Webb and Fort Bend Counties.

But Richard Whittaker, writing in the Austin Chronicle, explains what Spakovsky ignores in his comment.

[I]t seems that any turnout boost – minor as it was – was a response to local issues. Of the 15 largest counties in the state, those with the highest turnout voted on major local issues.

Whittaker says that there were extensive problems on election day 2013, even for voters who showed up to vote, with ID.

Even those who made it to the ballot box with ID had problems. During early voting and on e-day, anecdotal evidence of problems flooded in, mostly via Twitter. Normally not the most reliable of resources, the buzz-feed was lent extra credibility when Texas Observer associate editor Forrest Wilder tweeted that the magazine’s controller Krissi Trumeter “was just told she couldn’t vote with a U.S. passport even though that’s an approved form of voter ID.” It took half an hour of arguing before she could exercise her democratic right.

The scenario that Whittaker describes will likely be played out many times, in Texas, and elsewhere, this election day, as people attempt to exercise their right to vote. One of the justifications behind the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Texas law was that to make changes at this time would confuse both voters and poll workers. But it appears that there is already plenty of confusion among poll workers, regarding which forms of ID are acceptable, and which are not.

The bottom line is that we are now seeing a very politicized Republican Supreme Court siding with Republican governors and legislatures in order to help Republicans win elections. That statement may sound harsh, but when the evidence shows that the voter fraud that Republicans say they are protecting us from does not exist, can there be any other interpretation?

[Image via ACLU]


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