State and local threats to voting rights have exploded in the three years since the U.S. Supreme Court attacked a critical constitutional protection for minority voters, despite overwhelming evidence of discrimination, a new report by the NAACP reveals.
Democracy Diminished (pdf), released by the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), looks at disenfranchisement around the country since the Supreme Court effectively blocked Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act—which requires certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination against voters to submit proposed voting changes to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or a federal court in Washington, D.C. for pre-clearance—in its 2013 ruling on Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.
Following the decision, Alabama quickly enacted long-proposed rules requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, which studies have shown hinders turnout in Black and Latino communities; in Arizona, polling places were reduced in the only two districts with sizable Black populations; in another part of the state, lawmakers passed a bill that makes it a felony to collect and turn in other people's ballots—which opponents say targets Native American voters who live on remote reservations far away from polling places.
In North Carolina, which has served as a ground zero for the voting rights debate after Governor Pat McCrory (R) signed some of the most restrictive voter ID rules in the nation, hundreds of thousands of voters reported difficulties casting ballots or even getting accurate poll location information. Approximately 318,000 registered voters in the state, majority Black and Latino, did not have photo IDs as of the March 2016 primaries.
The report "shows how the Supreme Court's decision in the Shelby County case—which second-guessed the judgment of Congress, the testimony of experts and overwhelming evidence of voting discrimination—has left millions of minority voters vulnerable to voter suppression schemes in towns, counties, and states across the country," said LDF's president and director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill.
"Until the Voting Rights Act is fully intact, we must all play a role in protecting every individual's right to vote," Leah Aden, LDF senior counsel and lead author of the report, said Thursday. "We urge Congress to hold immediate hearings on legislation introduced to amend the Voting Rights Act."
The Court's 2013 ruling also found Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act—which determines which jurisdictions must submit to pre-clearance—to be unconstitutional; while justices stopped short of making the same decision for Section 5, its direct link to Section 4(b) rendered it inoperable, sparking outcry from critics.
LDF's report echoes similar findings by civil rights advocates who warned in March that the Shelby decision "ushered in a renaissance of voter disenfranchisement" that must be stopped before the general election.