The United States Commission on Civil Rights[i], an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency, created by the Voting Rights Act of 1956, has issued a report on the current state of voting rights in the United States.
I recently discussed voting rights and the attacks against them by certain states and localities. The USCCR’s report shows the true picture, and it isn’t pretty. The 402 page report is available on the USCCR’s website.[ii]
I previously discussed Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al., 570 U.S. 2 (2013). That case stripped the federal government of any effective tools to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Prior to the decision, certain jurisdictions, that had been designated as containing discriminatory voting laws, were required to get Federal clearance before making changes to their voting laws. The Shelby County decision stated holds that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions were covered was unconstitutional. That means no one needs pre-approval to enact voting laws. The Justice Department can still enforce the Voting Rights Act, but it will require time. That time will allow elections to take place under illegal voting laws until the DOJ can complete its enforcement procedures.
The USCCR’s report highlights the problem:
Since Shelby County, jurisdictions have made changes to their voting procedures that would not have received the federal government’s approval. For example, some jurisdictions—including both formerly covered and non-Section 5 covered jurisdictions—have required strict forms of voter ID, purged voter rolls, reduced polling locations, required documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote, and cut early voting, among other contested voting changes that, on the specific facts in those states, operate to denigrate minority voting access in ways that would have violated preclearance requirements if they were still in effect. Data indicate that these voting procedure changes disproportionately limit minority citizens’ ability to vote.
The report makes the following findings:
- Changes that were previously not precleared by the federal government under Section 5 in covered states were immediately implemented;
- Federal courts held that the laws were motivated by an intent to discriminate against minority voters, in one case, “with surgical precision;”
- These voting changes remained in place through several elections, though courts eventually found that the changes were motivated by racial discrimination and/or had discriminatory effects; and
- Statewide discriminatory voting changes adversely impacted the rights of large numbers of eligible voters, and future judicial preclearance or “bail in” was not ordered by the courts in the wake of findings of intentionally racially discriminatory election changes.
It is pretty obvious that certain states, Texas and North Carolina were mentioned, will not hesitate to disenfranchise minority voters in order for the party to remain in power.
The report noted that of the 61 enforcement proceedings brought against discriminatory voting laws during the time of the report’s investigation, only 4 were brought by the Justice Department. The rest were brought by private groups.
It should not be necessary to rely on private groups to enforce our nation’s laws. The DOJ must bring more actions and be more involved, unfortunately the current administration does not see this as a priority.
The disenfranchisement of minority groups helps certain political parties remain in power despite the desires of the majority of the citizens. Voting the bedrock of our society and any restrictions on citizen’s right to vote diminishes our republic. Congress should make it a priority to revise the Voting Rights Act and the Department of Justice should make voting rights a priority.
The author[s] is solely responsible for this blog submission. It does not represent the position of the New York State Bar Association or its Committee.