Despite the sacred nature of the vote, state governments have proved themselves unprincipled in their responsibility to safeguard this right. It isn’t the first time. Six decades ago President Truman’s recommended federal reforms.
Truman rejected the notion that state governments could solve the problem. Evidence proved they perpetrated the most egregious wrongs. The President argued the nation “cannot afford to delay action until the most backward community has learned to prize civil liberty.” Civil rights arise largely from the US Constitution. The federal government, therefore, took the lead then as it must now.
Truman’s recommendations eventually culminated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Lyndon Johnson outlined the deviousness of state officials. African-Americans were told they’d gotten the date wrong, to come back another day, that they weren’t literate, or were forced to pay a poll tax before voting. Finally Congress agreed states’ rights do not include denying qualified citizens the right to vote.
Election of the president and members of Congress are matters of national interest. The time has come again for the federal government to protect voting rights from a new generation of state officials who have put their party’s success above fundamental democratic rights.
Prior to the 2012 presidential election, several states purposely imposed barriers to the right to vote. Without any evidence, they claimed election fraud was the basis for these laws. It’s not a coincidence that the harshest restrictions were proposed in swing states where discouraging even a few voters from going to the polls could change the result.
Early voting, previously used by both parties to facilitate the voting process, was limited or disallowed. Early voting is popular even in Wyoming but is viewed in some states as giving an advantage to one party. The former Florida governor, Republican Charlie Crist, admitted party leaders approached him about changing early voting, in a blatant effort to suppress Democrat turnout.
Other states complicated the process of voter registration. Voter identification laws were enacted in states that also made obtaining an identification card difficult and expensive, the modern version of a poll tax.
A list of states where vote restrictions were most aggressively pursued supports the conclusion that it’s not about voter fraud. It’s about the Electoral College. It’s a list of states where large 2008 turnouts helped Obama win. Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. When Pennsylvania passed its voter-suppression law, the Republican leader in the legislature acknowledged the purpose was to assure a Romney victory.
Many states intentionally designed procedures to lengthen lines as a means of discouraging people from voting. Florida’s Republican Party purged eligible black voters from the rolls and enacted a law limiting registration drives and early voting, reacting to Obama’s successful use of the system. Several of these state laws failed to survive judicial scrutiny. Even then election or party officials provided false or misleading information about voter requirements. In perhaps the most egregious example, Arizona election officials mailed notices to Hispanic voters telling them Election Day was November 8th…when it was November 6th.
Since Obama’s first election, at least 180 proposed laws limiting voting rights were introduced in state legislatures according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. Few passed. Fewer survived the scrutiny of the courts. But the new rules covered voters in 13 states. And it has already begun anew as Republicans look back on what happened this time and forward to what they want to happen in 2016.
Party control of a swing state shouldn’t be the rationale for local barriers. Voting rules should be uniform from state to state. Why should a voter in Florida or Ohio face obstacles not faced elsewhere when trying to vote for President of the United States? Congressional agreement on uniform, national voting laws would more likely create an incentive to make them fairer than when states are allowed to manipulate them to achieve a partisan result. Once again the states proved themselves unable to guarantee the right to vote. Congress needs to act.