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Vol. 77/No. 40      November 11, 2013

States place new obstacles
on workers’ right to vote
(front page)
At least half a dozen states have put in place new obstacles to the ability of working people to vote in the wake of the June decision by the Supreme Court striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act. That section required states and local governments with a long history of racist discrimination to get prior approval from the Justice Department before making any changes in voting laws.

The Voting Rights Act was first passed in 1965, a conquest of the fight for Black rights in the 1950s and ’60s. It banned literacy tests, poll taxes and other measures designed to prevent Blacks from voting or running for office. The Voting Rights Act uses the power granted Congress by the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, itself a conquest of the Civil War that ended slavery, to ensure that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged … on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The act was last extended for a 25-year period in 2006 by a large majority in Congress and signed by President George W. Bush.

The North Carolina legislature has approved some of the most onerous restrictions. Signed in August by Gov. Patrick McCrory, a Republican, the new law requires all voters in the state to present a photo ID; shortens the early voting period by seven days; eliminates same-day registration; prohibits extending voting hours; bans provisional voting if someone goes to the wrong precinct; ends pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds; and allows any voter to challenge ballots of other voters.

“They’re cutting down the number of days for early voting and banning voting on Sunday,” Rev. Donald Matthews, president of the Randolph County NAACP, said by phone Oct. 28. “What was good about Sunday is that after church service you could get your congregation together and all go down to vote together.

“It used to be if I was in line they could not shut the door until the last man voted. Now when the poll closes, that’s it, no matter how many are in line,” Matthews said. “And now you also have what they call vigilante challenges. Any person can challenge another person’s vote. That’s not going to sit well.

“There’s no way around it, this was directly aimed at people of color. Blacks, Latinos and poor people period,” he said.

The NAACP has held “Moral Monday” protests in more than a dozen cities in the state since August, with the attack on voting rights a central focus, along with police brutality, women’s rights and other issues.

At the end of September, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the U.S. Department of Justice was suing to overturn the North Carolina law under a section of the Voting Rights Act that was not affected by the Supreme Court decision. The League of Women Voters, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and other groups have filed similar suits.

Photo IDs required in Texas

The Texas government immediately imposed photo ID requirements after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Like North Carolina, only certain photo IDs are accepted. The government says that anyone can get one for free if needed, Kenneth Davidson, president of the Palestine-Anderson County NAACP in Texas, told the Militant Oct. 28. “But in small towns the office is only open from 8 to 5,” he said. “And you need a copy of your birth certificate to get it and that office is only open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That’s hard to do if you’re working, you can’t just go and do it on your lunch break. If you were delivered by a midwife, most likely there’s no record of you being born.

“It’s going to affect the elderly, the Hispanics and Blacks,” Davidson said.

In August the Justice Department sued to overturn the Texas requirement.

In October the state governments of Arizona and Kansas announced plans to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling against requiring additional proof of U.S. citizenship in federal elections by setting up a two-tiered voting system with extra citizenship documentation needed to vote in state and local races.

More than 18,000 Kansas residents who registered to vote since January have been turned down, according to Bloomberg News.

Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent to the 5-4 decision demonstrated with numerous examples that the Voting Rights Act remains indispensable for preventing voter disenfranchisement around the country. The court has no jurisdiction to overturn any part of the law under the U.S. Constitution’s 15th Amendment, she said, which established Congress’s “obligation to enforce the post-Civil War Amendments ‘by appropriate legislation.’”

The Supreme Court’s June decision eliminated the list of states and local governments that have to get Justice Department approval for any changes to voting laws. The majority declared the list obsolete on the basis that voter registration rates of Blacks and Caucasians are roughly equal and a large proportion of minorities are elected to office today.

“True, conditions in the South have impressively improved since passage of the Voting Rights Act,” Ginsburg wrote. “Congress noted this improvement and found that the VRA was the driving force behind it. But Congress also found that voting discrimination had evolved into subtler second-generation barriers.”

The numerous and growing examples of these new obstacles, she said, “is powerful evidence that a remedy as effective as preclearance [prior approval] remains vital to protect minority voting rights.”

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Ginsburg wrote.
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