Respond to Supreme Court with push for new voting rights laws, amendments

June 25, 2013

By and 5-4 vote today, June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned the return of apartheid in nine states in our union that have a long legacy of blocking black and Latino voters.

The Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required nine states, all but one former Confederate states, to seek pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department prior to changing election laws. The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Blatant racist attacks on the U.S. electorate have been the deliberate strategy of the Republican Party, in particular, since its theft of the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

In 2000, the Republican Party overtly embraced old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics, targeting former felons as a pretext for stripping 90,000 poor and minority voters from the voting rolls. A majority of the illegally purged voters were African American.

In 2004, the Republicans shifted these deliberate racist tactics to the pivotal battleground state of Ohio. More than 300,000 voters were eliminated from registration rolls in heavily Democratic urban areas such as Toledo and Cincinnati. In the city of Cleveland 24.93% of all voters in the 2000 presidential election vanished from the voting rolls. Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s first black elected official, deployed a wide range of deceptive methods aimed at disenfranchising poor and minority voters. Also, urban areas were short-changed on voting machines and denied paper backup ballots. Tens of thousands of minority voters were forced to use the “back of the bus” provisional ballots, which often went uncounted or were discarded.

So successful were these new Jim Crow tactics in Ohio, the Republicans purged another 1.2 million in the 2008 election in the Buckeye State. They repeated this in 2012,  purging 1.25 million more voters.

Also in 2012, led by Georgia and Indiana, GOP-controlled legislatures began passing laws demanding state-issued photo ID cards for all voters. New York University’s Brennan Center estimated that such laws would disenfranchise more than 10 million voters. It is precisely this type of law that will go into effect in Texas as a result of this June 25 Supreme Court decision.

Poor, minority and elderly voters who do not drive, often do not have a photo ID. Moreover, forcing people who do not need a driver’s license or state-issued photo ID card should constitute an illegal poll tax.

The Supreme Court ruling removes the last remnants of protection for poor and minority voters and will openly invite new and creative ways to repress the most vulnerable people in our society.

What the Supreme Court should have done is expand the principles of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into the emerging Jim Crow states of Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.  

What the Green Shadow Cabinet proposes goes far beyond a voting rights act. A new federal voting rights law, followed by a constitutional voting rights amendment must be passed guaranteeing all U.S. citizens the right to vote. In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., ultimately we will be judged as a democracy by what we do to protect and defend the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers.

~ Robert Fitrakis serves as chair of the Federal Election Commission in the Democracy Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States.