- Kristen Clarke: High court ruling on Voting Rights Act has harsh repercussions for 2016
- Voting rights advocates play "Whac-a-mole" with suppressive state measures, she says
Next week will mark the first presidential election in more than 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act
In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts authored an opinion for the Supreme Court in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder
that gutted a core provision of the act. In it, Roberts noted that "things have changed dramatically" across the country and that "(b)latantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare."
However, Roberts' view of the voting rights landscape does not align with events over the last three years, which make clear that voting discrimination and voter suppression are alive and well. Since that ruling, we have witnessed lawmakers taking action to make voting more difficult. What's worse, their efforts have only intensified in the weeks leading up to the 2016 general election.
Only compounding the situation is the US Department of Justice's more recent decision
to terminate core components of its federal observer program. These specially trained individuals were deployed inside polling sites to help prevent discriminatory challenges to minority voters and ensure fair treatment of voters. Their presence is needed now more than ever with extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers
vowing to mobilize former law enforcement and military officials to conduct surveillance covertly at polling sites. Whether their plans are mere rhetoric remains to be seen, but when coupled with the false proclamations of "rigged" elections
and other calls for citizens to lurk outside polling sites on Election Day, their ominous tone will likely have a devastating effect either way.
As executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, I have seen firsthand how voting rights advocates are trying to be everywhere at once to prevent voter suppression in states across the country.
Take Texas, for example. Hours after the Shelby ruling, Texas announced that it was implementing a restrictive photo identification requirement for voters that disenfranchised more than a half-million Texans. After hard-fought litigation, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued a recent ruling finding the law discriminatory
. The Lawyers' Committee and other organizations have sought to ensure compliance by state and local officials with the new, broader ID requirements this ruling put in place.
However, as early voting commenced during the last week of October, several Texas counties have continued
to post signs or give instructions to voters with outdated information.
In Georgia, voting discrimination is a problem at the state and local level. In Hancock County