The Right to Vote Under Attack
Nearly three years ago, The United States regressed 48 years when the Supreme Court snatched the heart of the most imperative legislation for people of color since the 13th Amendment, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The highest court of the land stated that, Section 4’s formula was outdated and no longer necessary in a “post racial” America. Yet only four members of the bench knew of the grave consequences the court had impressed upon the nation by this decision, which in turn hindered millions of Americans from exercising the bedrock of democracy, voting. As Justice Ginsburg stated in the dissenting opinion, the court’s decision to redesign Section 4 of the VRA was to ‘[throw] away your umbrella during a storm’, which could not have been more accurate. A storm is exactly what citizens in the south are experiencing, especially so in Texas, my home state. Within two hours of the Shelby County v. Holder’s decision, the State Attorney General, now governor, Greg Abbott, announced that the Voter Identification law was in effect, hindering thousands of college students, people of color, and the elderly from exercising their right to vote.
To understand the importance and the detriment of this SCOTUS decision, one has to understand how the VRA functioned. Section 4 protected many citizens of the minority population because it required any changes to the voting requirements to be pre-cleared by the United States Department of Justice. Section 4 pre-clearance requirements prohibited the state-issued identification card requirement in order to vote in many states, like Texas. Now that Section 4 has been struck down, states and counties no longer need clearance from the Justice Department to change their voting laws. Section 4 provided a list of requirements that placed states, counties, and cities under Section 5 which provided the procedures that they must adhere to in order to implement new voting changes. Now that Section 4 is eliminated, Section 5 no longer has any power. Essentially, this has created a grave problem that hinders true inclusion and democracy.
There are a number of our fellow peers who don’t get to exercise their fundamental right to vote because they do not have a state issued ID card. It has been disheartening for them to learn that their state funded, public institution of higher education's ID card, does not qualify as a “state issued” ID card. Out of the four states in our SWBLSA region, Texas is the only state that has a harsh voting ID law, requiring a photo, state-issued ID. Louisiana follows Texas by requesting a photo ID, however, if a voter does not have an ID present, they simply sign an affidavit to identify that they are eligible to vote. In Oklahoma, a voter registration card can suffice as identification, but many just present a photo ID instead. Lastly in Arkansas, ID is requested, but photo ID is not required. Arkansas' voter ID law was once as strict as Texas, but the state's supreme court struck down the harsh law deeming it unconstitutional. We have to give big props to the state of Arkansas for the progressive decision in upholding all of its citizens fundamental right to vote!
As social engineers and future leaders of this country, what can we do to insure that ALL citizens have the right to vote in each state? Well there are a number of bills, resolutions, and referendums that have been presented over the last three years to reconstruct the VRA that we can support. There are two that specifically deserve recognition, the U.S. House resolution and a Democratic National Committee referendum. Rep. Sensenbrenner, Republican from Wisconsin who led the 2006 re-authorization of the VRA, authored H.R. 885 Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015. The resolution reviews states that incurred three or more voting rights violations in the past fifteen years. The resolution was introduced to the House in February 2011, and has yet to leave the Judiciary committee. The best solution brought thus far is from the Voter Expansion and Protection Committee of the Democratic National Committee, which calls for amending the U.S. Constitution to explicitly guarantee voting as a individual’s federal right, since the Supreme Court of United States has declared it as a fundamental right. With the current ambiguous verbiage in the U.S. Constitution on voting, states have found loopholes to still hinder individuals by establishing certain voting laws. If these needed changes to the Law of the Land are not adopted, then millions of citizens will continue to not have the fundamental right to vote in this democracy.
I dare ask, are we a nation of humans or a nation of laws? I think about this paradox knowing full well, that without the weight and responsibility of the vote unencumbered, the United States is nothing more than what we claim other nations to be. People of color have waited beyond the stretch of their dignity for the vote, and until restored, here SWBLSA stands, pen in hand. Now, what will you do?
See National Conference of State Legislatures for more information on each state voting ID law: http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx#Ftn 1
 Shelby v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612, 2650 (2013) (Ginsburg, J dissenting).