America's Separate and Unequal Voting Laws

But the midterms showed that voting rights may finally be a political winner.

"Phoebe Einzig-Roth, an 18-year-old freshman at Atlanta’s Emory University, moved to Georgia in August and was excited to vote in her first election. But when she went to her polling location near campus on Election Day, election officials told her she’d been flagged as a noncitizen. Even though she’d brought three forms of identification—her Massac­husetts driver’s license, passport, and student ID—she was forced to cast a provisional ballot.

Three days later, she went to confirm her citizenship at the local election office, where she was assured her vote would be counted. But she kept checking Georgia’s online “My Voter Page” and there was no record it had been. She posted a picture of herself on Facebook wearing an “I’m a Georgia Voter” sticker and wrote, “The thing that infuriates me the most about voter suppression is not that it happened to me, but that it happened, and is continuing to happen to thousands of people all over the country, and most of the time, nothing is done to stop people from being turned away at the voting polls.” She told me a few days later, “I don’t believe my vote will count.”

Einzig-Roth was right that she was far from alone. Voters in Georgia and other states faced onerous barriers to performing their civic duty this year. As these voters were running into obstacles, residents of other states were passing ballot measures to strike down voting restrictions and make voting easier for many more people. These parallel worlds mean voting in America today looks a lot like it did more than half a century ago. We’re becoming two Americas again: one where casting a ballot is a breeze, and another where it’s a pitched battle.

Before 1965, voting laws varied widely by state. It was extremely difficult for African Americans to vote in Alabama or Mississippi but far easier for them to do so in Northern states. The Voting Rights Act ended this dichotomy by striking down the literacy tests and suppressive laws that disenfranchised African Americans in the segregated South. With the passage of the VRA, the country committed itself to ensuring voting rights for all Americans, regardless of race, party, or region.

But the Supreme Court shattered that consensus when it gutted the law in 2013, ruling that states with a long history of voting discrimination no longer needed to get federal approval to make changes to their voting rules. Chief Justice John Roberts rejected the notion that voting discrimination was still “pervasive” or “rampant,” asserting that “our country has changed.” The midterms were a perfect illustration of just how wrong he was. As a result of the court’s decision—along with a slew of laws passed by Republican-controlled state governments over the past decade—24 states had new voting restrictions in place for the 2018 elections.

The stories are now familiar: In Georgia, more than 750,000 voters were purged from the rolls over the past two years by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was also the Republican candidate for governor. Some voters near Atlanta waited more than four hours to cast ballots. In Florida, more than 20,000 absentee ballots were rejected, disproportionately from voters of color. In June, North Carolina’s Republican Legislature passed a law that contributed to a 20 percent decrease in early voting locations. Under Texas’ voter ID law, people could vote with a gun permit but not a student ID.

Voter suppression wasn’t limited to Southern states with a history of disenfranchising voters. In North Dakota, 5,000 Native Americans living on reservations were initially barred from voting because a new law wouldn’t accept their P.O. boxes as valid addresses. Iowa instituted a new voter ID law and reduced early voting. In Kansas, the lone polling place in Dodge City, which is 59 percent Hispanic, was moved outside town, a mile from the nearest public transportation..."

Read full article at Mother Jones

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