Current Voting Rights News

This week, Ohio lawmakers passed new laws making it more difficult for voters to access the ballot box.  Two bills introduced by Republican lawmakers passed the legislature. The first cuts six days from the early voting period in the state and ends same day voter registration.  The second discontinues the practice of mailing absentee ballots to registered voters and allows the Secretary of State to send them out, if lawmakers decide to pay for it. These would go into effect for November elections and other states have passed similar laws. Many suggest this is to curtail the vote of minorities, the poor, and the youth. However, the 2012 election had higher percentage of Black voter turnout than that of Whites for the first time in history.  But in 2013, the Supreme Court removed a key provision of the Voting Rights Act handicapping it. This is an an issue that National Action Network will be addressing at the 2014 convention as more of these laws restrict voting rights across the country.

In upcoming elections, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo ID in order to cast their ballots. To many this is seen as a suppression of voting rights. For months, election workers have been preparing new voting procedures, while party activists and political groups seek ID cards for voters who do not have them. Supporters of the measures contend the ID checks protect against fraudulent voting. Critics see them as a way of discouraging the kind of voters who lack picture IDs. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that states can require voters to produce photo ID at the polls without violating their constitutional rights. Equally important, the high court threw out a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act, a decision that allowed voter ID laws to take effect in states where voting procedures had been under strict federal oversight for nearly 50 years.Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have approved such measures. However, some are on hold because of court challenges. In Mississippi, black lawmakers have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to block their state’s law. When Arkansas held a special legislative election in January, dozens of mail-in absentee votes were thrown out after voters failed to include a copy of their photo ID with their ballot. It is an occurring political battle.

Attorney General Eric Holder has called for the restoration of voting rights to felons after they’ve served their time in prison. This has split Senate Democrats. Liberal Democrats say it’s the right thing to do, but more vulnerable incumbents are more hesitant of the proposal. Political experts say barring ex-felons from voting impacts African Americans and other communities disproportionately. Some have suggested imposing a higher threshold for violent ex-felons to regain their voting rights. In Virginia, those with more serious criminal records were required to apply to the state for the ability to vote. Senator Ben Cardin from Maryland plans to introduce legislation that would restore voting rights to felons as soon as they are released from prison while Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky is working on a bill that would restore rights to non-violent offenders who have served their time behind bars. New Hampshire already restores voting rights after release from prison. While some view embracing this as politically risky, many view this is a step in the right direction.

Lawmakers have announced bipartisan legislation that would restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act. The bill would also establish new criteria to determine whether states need to seek federal approval for proposed changes to voting rules. The legislation is a response to the high court’s ruling that Southern states had been unfairly singled out by the long-standing formula used to determine which states must seek federal clearance before changing their voting laws. The proposed legislation establishes that any state that is found to have committed five voting violations over a 15-year period would be subject to federal scrutiny of any new voting laws for a period of 10 years. It would also allow states to create photo identification laws. Four states are already subject to the law if it were to pass: Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. It is predicted that it would be easier to pass in a Democratic-controlled Senate. The hope is that it is in effect by November elections.

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