The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had required states with a history of discrimination –most of them in the South — to get advanced federal approvals to allow election laws to be amended. Much of this changed after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision and the rise in Republican-controlled state legislatures. Voter access was limited by new laws that restricted early voting and same-day registration and that required special identification cards at polling places. These restrictions mostly disenfranchised or affected the voting opportunities of minorities, the elderly, the disabled and the poor in these 17 states.
The U.S. Justice Department challenged voter ID laws in many of these states including North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona and Georgia. Recently, federal courts have temporarily staved off some of the toughest requirements made into law in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin after these federal judges found no evidence of what was called “rampant voter fraud.” In fact, there is essentially zero in-person voting fraud in the more than half a billion votes that have been cast in the U.S. in the last 4-6 years.
With the Nov. 8, 2016 presidential election and other important federal and statewide elections on the horizon, litigation regarding voter restriction laws in these many states remains knotted up, with U.S. Supreme Court appeals likely. The legislation in the GOP-led Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its previous form has stalled.
The Republican presidential nominee has stated over and again that there are dangers of voter fraud across the country even though there is no evidence of that, and he has never supplied any evidence of such. He has said without evidence that dead voters helped elect President Obama. The Republican nominee opposes same-day voter registration, saying it could allow people to “sneak in through the cracks.”
One of the most important acts of citizenship is voting. To make voting harder rather than easier is simply politically motivated and not designed to allow more people to vote. Voting rights have been left to the states to decide how registration, early voting, voting IDs and the mechanisms of voting are handled.
The U.S. Constitution originally gave the states full discretion to determine how voting would be conducted, including qualifications and the method of voting. The 15th Amendment gave the right to vote to black American men. Even still the Southern states mostly restricted voting of black Americans which led finally to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But in the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court struck Section 4(b) as unconstitutional, finding it unresponsive to current needs. The case came about on the issue of whether Congress’s decision to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) exceeded its authority. The Supreme Court decision was taken to mean that the states had changed and that the coverage formula was no longer needed. It took no time at all following the Court’s decision that many states went to work restricting voters in what many believe was designed to make voting much more difficult for the groups of minorities, the elderly, the disabled who generally vote for Democrats in elections.
The Shelby County decision has opened up many opportunities for the states to enact restrictive voter ID laws that shorten or eliminate early voting, remove or reduce the number of voting places in highly populated minority communities, requiring difficult to obtain voter IDs and other such restrictions that seem to mostly impact the voting rights of people of color, the poor and the elderly.
In Illinois, voting is a right that seems not to be hampered by unreasonable restrictions on anybody. Early voting is convenient and easy. Those who are gratified by voting on election days will find that the process is almost universally well-handled in our state. However, Gov. Bruce Rauner recently vetoed an Illinois bill aimed at making voter registration automatic in Illinois. The governor cited concerns about “potential voting fraud and conflicts with federal law.” The bill had overwhelming support in both of the houses of the Illinois General Assembly. There may be more than enough votes there to override the veto if the governor chooses not to reconsider.
Had the law gone into effect starting in January 2018, Illinois citizens seeking a new or updated driver’s license or other state services would automatically be registered to vote or have their registration updated unless they opted out. At the moment in Illinois, motorists seeking services at the secretary of state’s driver’s facilities are asked if they want to register to vote or update their registration to vote, which is an opt-in form of voter registration.
The national Election Day this year is Nov. 8, 2016.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois civil trials for individuals, families and businesses for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bridgeview, Orland Park, Gurnee, Glenview, Winnetka, Countryside, Palos Park and Homewood, Ill.
Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.
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