Race, Social Justice

Do politicians really want us to vote?

Racial discrimination in voting remains a significant problem in our democracy.

With the presidential primary coming up, voting is in the forefront of the mind of most American citizens. While most of us would rather not have to vote for any politicians at all, not as many of us are willing to mobilize and instead look towards hopeful candidate Bernie Sanders. His campaign strategy so far has been geared towards the working class, and his platform has very little funding compared to the huge corporation backed campaigns of his opponents.

For candidates like Bernie Sanders, voter turnout is one of the most important things for success. In order to achieve the ideal circumstances for him, supports must begin to consider voter discrimination.

The findings of The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination: A Study of Recent Voting Rights Violations by State reveal that:

Racial discrimination in voting remains a significant problem in our democracy. Nearly 50 years after the enactment of the VRA, racial discrimination in voting remains a persistent problem in many places around the country. The 148 separate instances of voting violations since 2000 documented in this report illustrate that while we as a nation have made progress in our efforts to stop racial discrimination in voting, our work is not done. And given that this set of examples is drawn only from documented and reported cases of discrimination, the actual extent of racial discrimination in voting is likely much more extensive than this list may suggest.

The problem of racial discrimination in voting is not limited to one region of the country. The examples outlined in this report document instances of voting discrimination from 30 states, representing every region of the country. Racial discrimination in voting remains concentrated in states that were previously covered under the VRA’s preclearance requirement, but is also present in other states and jurisdictions that have not had the same history of discrimination.

Voting discrimination occurs most often in local elections. As is evident throughout this document, the vast majority of instances of racial discrimination since 2000 have occurred at the local level. They often concern the election of city, county or other local elected officials, where many of the contests are nonpartisan.

Discrimination in voting manifests itself in many ways, and new methods continue to emerge. Voting discrimination occurs today in both overt and subtle forms. The examples in this document range from an instance in Kilmichael, Mississippi, when the town cancelled a general election for the office of mayor and board of alderman after Black people had become a majority of the registered voters, to the closure of polling places in heavily minority areas.

      

The Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision, which ruled it unconstitutional to require certain states and local governments to obtain federal pre-clearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices as well as for Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. While it makes sense that Section 4(b) was struck down (it’s based on dated evidence and data), but without it no jurisdiction will be given to Section 5 unless a new coverage formula is enacted.

While the claims that historically discriminatory states have progressed, evidence also points otherwise. Since they no longer need clearance for their voting laws, several of these states have implemented problematic voter ID laws. Jim Rice says, “People concerned about the new voter laws contend that the ID requirements erect an unnecessary barrier for some voters, which raises an obvious question: Why is it so difficult for some people to get a photo ID?…But for many people, it’s not quite so easy, starting with the birth certificate, which many poor people and recent immigrants may not have at their fingertips. And, of course, people without photo IDs don’t have driver’s licenses, and likely don’t have a car, so getting to government offices—especially in rural areas without public transportation—can be a complicated, time-consuming process, often requiring time off work and the payment of fees.” When it comes to being trans and voting, valid ID can become a real problem due to administrative denial for proper gender listing, etc…

Marcia Johnson Blanco the co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called this a time, “when voting rights are under siege, and the Supreme Court has nullified one of the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act which gave communities of color a voice and a stake in the issues that govern our country.”

States redraw their district lines every 10 years, and it’s no surprise that some money is involved when it happens. “There is an active effort by political parties and political operatives to manipulate our elections and manipulate the way that district lines are drawn in order to preserve their own power and, in a lot of ways, to prevent up and coming communities of color from participating in that seat of democracy,” said Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director at Common Cause.

Furthermore, the location and accessibility of voting facilities is often called into question. When the availability of the restroom for disabled people was called into question in Miami-Dade county,

“Their result is that everyone, even those without a disability, even those voting at a facility that has a restroom that is accessible, will not be allowed to use it,” Dubin said.

In written testimony for the hearing, Dubin said the decision to close restrooms would “undoubtedly reduce the number of voters casting a vote on Election Day, and will significantly further reduce the ability of voters with mobility disabilities to participate in the electoral process…. How many voters, when learning that there is no restroom available, will simply choose not to vote?”

So with upcoming elections on everyones’ minds, it’s important to remember the very common instances where our democracy fails us. Most people will vividly remember the Florida recount for Bush, but small injustices are still transpiring every single day. Resist voter suppression and wake up to harmful gerrymandering, voter ID requirements, cutting back on early voting, and holding votes in places hard to access for poorer selections of people such as Ingenious tribes. Keep in mind that, dating back to the Jim Crow era, state felony disfranchisement laws “prevent approximately 5.85 million Americans with felony and, in several states, misdemeanor convictions from voting.” Do not forget that the states that enact these voting barriers are also among those that show the most evidence of voter suppression among minorities.

Many of us view voting as one of the highest powers that the populace has, and to realize just how many of us are denied that right is the first important step towards taking back those rights.