The Supreme Court in late June of 2013 struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This Supreme Court decision gave leeway for nine, mostly southern states, to attempt to change their election laws without seeking prior federal approval. As a consequence, voter rights and the attempts by some states to change voter identification laws have become a highly controversial and contested issue.
History of Federal Voting Rights Laws
The Justice Department reports that, by 1965, rigorous efforts to combat state disfranchisement of voter rights had been under way for some time. However, those efforts had achieved only subtle success. In some states, the efforts were completely unsuccessful.
However, many and repeated incidents of violence, and the work of voting-rights activists in Philadelphia and Mississippi, ultimately gained national media attention. The national attention was highlighted by an unprovoked attack on March 7, 1965 by state troopers against peaceful marchers as they attempted crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in a show of unity for their cause. The marchers were heading to Montgomery to try to convince legislators in that capitol city to recognize their voting rights. The violence against the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge motivated President Johnson and Congress to deter Southern legislators who were resisting fair and effectual voting rights laws. President Lyndon Johnson called for strong voting rights legislation. That call by Johnson resulted in hearings on the bill, successfully creating the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act has had many amendments made over the years. However, it faced many challenges in the 2012 presidential election. Now, since the Supreme Court decision invalidating part of the law, The Voting Rights Act once again faces some very critical and controversial challenges.
Attempts to Change Voter Identification Laws
Because the 2012 election promised to be a close one, much attention was paid to some recently passed and pending state laws that could prevent multitudes of eligible voters from casting their votes for their choices for president and congress.
Several states, including Florida, had effectively attempted to close down registration drives conducted by organizations like the League of Women Voters, traditionally known for registering new voters. Some states attempted shortening early-voting periods or disallowing voting on the Sunday before election day. Several states insisted that voter registrants provide documentary proof of their citizenship. Approximately two dozen states had attempted to tighten their identification rules for voting since 2003. Those changes have quickly stepped up in the last few years. Ten states had passed laws demanding that voters show a current government-issued photo ID. Legal challenges, however, did keep some of the laws from taking effect. Legal challenges were motivated by the opinion of those opposed to the changes that such changes would disenfranchise many voters, especially minority voters.
Within hours following the June 2013 Supreme Court decision regarding the Voter Rights Act, Texas announced a plan to enact a voter-ID law that opponents believed could disenfranchise as many as 800,000 minority voters. Texas also plans to attempt an alteration of their election district map. Federal courts ruled that both measures would be discriminatory.
Also following the Supreme Court's ruling, the governor of North Carolina signed a law cutting back voting hours and early voting times. North Carolina also disallowed the practice of paying canvassers to register voters and preregister teenagers in the schools. The law signed in North Carolina would also require specific forms of ID and eliminate the option to file provisional ballots in the event that voters mistakenly show up at the wrong polling place.
In conclusion, it would seem to be vital that Democrats and Republicans alike endeavor to guarantee that everyone abides by the same rules and that, in future elections, the candidate who wins is the candidate who was honestly elected. Both parties need to strive to ensure that there is no voter suppression and that no one’s vote is left uncounted.