WASHINGTON D.C.—On 12 October 2011, the Viễn Đông published an article mentioning how states’ voting law changes could disadvantage voters nationwide, leaving readers to think about how such changes could affect them if brought to California.
According to the New York based non-partisan public policy institute Brennan Center for Justice, changes to 12 states’ voting laws, could take away over 5 million people’s voting rights nationwide.
The changes were largely pushed by Republican state lawmakers in the South and Midwest, though Democrat-controlled legislatures in West Virginia and Rhode Island also joined the efforts.
Voting law changes will apply to the 2012 elections, which are crucial for Republican candidates hoping to push President Barack Obama out of the White House or keep another Democrat from becoming U.S. President.
The changes will also be beneficial to Republican candidates at the state level, as such candidates strive to control, or keep control, of their state legislatures.
“There is a battle going on for the right to vote,” Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice Ms. Wendy Weiser was quoted in the Huffington Post.
That battle has been a historic one, between groups who have held power in the United States and groups who have yet to touch it.
Is the United States a true democracy if voting, the main expression of such democracy, is controlled and unbalanced?
Voting ID laws
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, over 3 million people will not be able to vote because they do not have such necessary identification.
Before 2011, only Georgia and Indiana required voters to have photo IDs to vote.
Now, Texas, Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, and Wisconsin will also require voters to have photo IDs to vote in the 2012 elections. Necessary photo IDs will include: driver’s licenses, government issued photo IDs, passports, and military IDs.
Alabama, Kansas, and Rhode Island will accept student IDs from state universities as photo IDs while those states including Texas and Tennessee will accept concealed handgun licenses as photo IDs for voters.
“I believe that this is a significant restriction on voting that will affect, primarily, minorities and does little to preserve the integrity of the electoral process,” University of Irvine School of Law Founding Dean Chemerinsky told the Viễn Đông, speaking about photo ID laws.
Dean Chemerinsky wrote the book, Conservative Assault on the Constitution, outlining how the U.S. Supreme Court has become Conservative in ideology and diminished citizens’ protections under the U.S. Constitution.
There are many hindrances to people, namely minorities, obtaining photo IDs. For instance, not everyone has financial access to state university education or a passport. For people who cannot afford a car, a driver’s license seems irrelevant.
For people who have been politically and socially repressed by governments in countries abroad before immigrating to the United States, producing necessary photo IDs to vote might invoke feelings of distrust in the transparency of the voting process.
Registration, early voting
Not only could there be voters not voting due to new photo ID laws in some states, there could be potential voters that won’t come close to the chance because they might not even have sufficient access to registration.
In Florida specifically, third parties registering voters, like the League of Women voters, must turn in all registration forms within 48 hours of completion and must turn in monthly reports on voter registration drives to state elected officials.
If third parties make mistakes in the voter registration laws, they face $1,000 fines.
In Texas, a law signed by Governor Rick Perry requires people registering voters to go through training and become qualified for the position. These people are then not allowed to accept compensation based on the number of voters they register.
Texas will also be strict on the early voting process, diminishing what used to be 96 hours for early voting spread over 15 days to the same 96 hours now spread over eight days.
For the people working at the polls, each of the eight days will now be 12 hour work days.
Dean Chemerinsky told the Viễn Đông that although many states’ voting law changes are unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court still upholds them.
He believes that rather than making neutral decisions based on the Constitution, Conservative judges are “imposing their personal prejudices.” The only way Americans can gain freedom and equality through the courts and law, is to realize that the U.S. justice system has shifted to a strict Conservative ideology, promoting private interests and business freedom.
What about the freedom of everyday people, the voters?
The establishment of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965 enforced the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified nearly 100 years earlier in 1870.
Under the 15th Amendment, it became illegal to deny someone voting rights based on the person’s race, skin color, or “previous condition of servitude,” meaning slavery.
The 15th Amendment was ratified seven years after all slaves, who were mostly African American, were declared free under the Emancipation Proclamation.
Though, freedom did not mean voting.
Beginning in the 1870s, lawmakers participated in many measures, like literacy tests and poll taxes, to keep African Americans from voting.
As the United States developed ethnically, more ethnic minority groups became disadvantaged politically, unwelcome in the voting process.
How are states’ new voting laws different from the voting suppression done against African Americans and others prior to 1965? Are they different?