Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Politics: Voting Rights Becomes Salient Issue As Election Day Approaches

The fight to exercise the right to vote has become more salient as Election Day gets closer and closer. Republicans are generally trying to make voting more difficult while Democrats are trying to make sure that everyone can vote. Legislatures in red states where Republicans have full control have passed multiple measures reducing early voting days, enacting voter identification laws in the name of "reducing voter fraud."

In the past week there have been important court actions from federal judges (including the U.S. Supreme Court) involving voting rights in states like Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio.

Prominent Election Law expert Rick Hasen describes these actions in an article for Slate magazine:
As I explained in a recent Slate column, ultimately at issue in the Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas cases is how broadly courts are going to intervene to protect voting rights in states where Republican legislatures have made it harder to register and to vote. All the cases raise claims under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Ultimately, the Supreme Court could well side with the conservative judges in the courts below who have read these protections narrowly and not worried too much about the risk of voter disenfranchisement, rather than siding with the more liberal judges who have blocked restrictive laws for hurting minority voters, poor voters, and others. 
But none of these cases so far reached (or will reach) the Supreme Court as fully formed final cases. Instead, they have come up on emergency requests to block lower court orders that were put into effect just weeks before the election. The rulings have had election officials scrambling in Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin to comply with new, and sometimes conflicting, court orders.
Meanwhile, in Illinois progressives have an opportunity to go on the offensive in the "War on Voting" this November when voters will decide whether to include a voting rights amendment to their state constitution.

The Illinois Right To Vote amendment reads:
No person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.
It may come as a surprise but there is no official right to vote in the United States Constitution. It seems to me that getting such language in as many states as possible is a necessary (but not sufficient!) step to insure that our democracy remains functional.

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