Since the gutting of section three of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013, more and more states have enacted measures that actively suppress voter turnout, specifically in communities of color. The impact of voter ID laws and the closure of polling locations on college campuses and in communities of color is profound.
For instance, the reduced number of polling places in Phoenix caused voters to wait in 5-hour lines during the March 22 primary, according to the Nation.
In the most extreme cases, the voter suppression tactics engineered by conservative lawmakers actively disenfranchise vast swaths of communities. For instance, Wisconsin voter-ID laws (which went into effect on March 5) could have blocked up to 300,000 registered voters from accessing the ballot. A federal judge struck down parts of those laws, ruling that they are discriminatory.
That’s why we get so incensed when out-of-touch, extreme politicians deny this reality. For instance, earlier this year Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared to USA Today that “There are no serious barriers to voting anymore anywhere in America.”
Mitch McConnell was dead wrong. McConnell and politicians like him conveniently ignore the rise in voter suppression legislation and tactics that sprang up across the United States since the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
Here are just a few examples to show that there are, in fact, very serious barriers to voting all across America.
While the precise impact of strict voting laws on the results of the 2014 midterm elections is still being assessed, it’s clear that the number of people who studies predicted would face increased difficulties in voting often either approached or exceeded the margins of victory in important races. In Texas, a strict voter-identification law that was found to be intentionally racially discriminatory by a federal court but, incredibly, remained in place for November may have affected an estimated 1.2 million eligible Texans who lacked the required ID. A disproportionate number of those affected were people of color. Meanwhile, the Texas governor’s race was decided by 954,306 votes.
Researchers found that in primary elections, “a strict ID law could be expected to depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, Black turnout by 8.6 points, and Asian American turnout by 12.5 points.”
The impact of strict voter ID was also evident in general elections, where minority turnout plummeted in relation to the white vote. “For Latinos in the general election, the predicted gap more than doubles from 4.9 points in states without strict ID laws to 13.5 points in states with strict photo ID laws,” the study found. That gap increased by 2.2 points for African Americans and by 5 points for Asian Americans. The effect was even more pronounced in primary elections.
In Texas, a federal trial court found that Gov. Rick Perry’s voter ID law was intentionally discriminating against minority voters, disenfranchising as many as 600,000 Texans. But the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned that decision last week, so the ACLU and other groups went to the Supreme Court. The court declined to consider the case, in line with earlier decisions not to change the rules for voting so close to an election. Ginsberg challenged her colleagues’ peculiar decision to prioritize orderly election administration over protecting voting rights.
“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law,” Ginsberg thundered, “one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”
Coming after the state recently put into effect a tougher voter ID law, the closures will cut off access — particularly for minorities —to one of the few types of IDs accepted.
According to a tally by AL.com columnist John Archibald, eight of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters saw their driver's license offices closed.
"Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one," Archibald wrote.
Archibald also noted that many of the counties where offices were closed also leaned Democrat.
"But maybe it's not racial at all, right? Maybe it's just political. And let's face it, it may not be either." he wrote. "But no matter the intent, the consequence is the same."
Samantha Master is a Black, queer, feminist activist and educator from Washington, DC, and the African American engagement manager at PPFA.