The Flip-Side of Suffrage

Congress Takes Action to Restore Provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

by Catherine McClure

On June 25, 2013 the Supreme Court struck down what many call the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, most in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval, referenced as pre-clearance. On December 6, 2019 the US House of Representatives passed the voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 which establishes new criteria for states and political subdivisions to obtain pre-clearance before changes to voting practices can take place.

On July 22, 2020 our own Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the Senate. Joined by forty-seven senators, this proposed legislation named in honor of recently deceased civil and voting rights advocate Senator John Lewis would require any state with a history of voting discrimination within the past 25 years seek federal approval before making any changes to its voting procedures. Also, it would mandate that any state, regardless of its history, obtain clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, DC, before making any changes that would tend to burden voters of color, such as creating strict voter ID laws or closing polling places in areas with large numbers of minority voters. The House bill still awaits Senate consideration and we will need to stand by to see what happens to the proposed legislation in the Senate.

Actions suppressing voting rights have flourished since the Supreme Court ruling in 2013. In many states obstacles to voter registration including time restrictions and increased identification requirements add stress to cutbacks in early voting, excuse-validation for absentee ballots, and the purging of voter rolls.

The Coronavirus pandemic has complicated access to voting as many elderly poll workers, feeling vulnerable to the virus, have withdrawn their volunteer status to work at the polls, and polling places have closed to facilitate moves to larger, presumably safer locations or to remove locations near residential facilities where residents are vulnerable. Relocation of polling places can in fact cause voter suppression as many individuals will not realize their local polling place has been relocated until they arrive to vote; the relocation may move polling places out of marginalized communities, especially where the coronavirus spread has affected greater numbers of people of color. Did you know that only 40% of polling places nationally accommodate people with disabilities (ACLU)? It is difficult to know the extent that misinformation plays in suppressing people from voting, but misinformation proliferates, especially misinformation about voter fraud and the security of mail-in ballots and on-line voter registration.

The results of voter suppression compromise our democracy. Our representative democracy is strongest when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard.

Advocate for Voting Rights