A day after we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, we wanted to make sure you saw this USA Today editorial about the importance of protecting Americans’ fundamental right to vote. Read the full editorial below or by clicking here:
USA TODAY Editorial: Voting rights vs. 'Whac-A-Mole' discrimination
A key purpose of the Voting Rights Act, which wiped away some of the most noxious instruments of segregation, was to stop "Whac-A-Mole" discrimination: A state or locality would impose a voting restriction aimed at minorities, and the courts would eventually strike it down. But then lawmakers would pass a virtually identical law and start the process all over again.
The result, as President Obama noted in Wednesday's speech marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, was that too many people "lived in towns where they couldn't vote and cities where their votes didn't matter."
The 1965 law short-circuited that process by requiring jurisdictions with the worst records of voter discrimination to get "preclearance" for voting laws, which meant asking permission from the Justice Department or a federal court.
In June, though, the Supreme Court declared that the preclearance list — covering all or parts of 16 states — was no longer constitutional. And with that, Whac-A-Mole was back. Freed from strict supervision, several states have begun reimposing voting restrictions that their sponsors claim are all about protecting the integrity of the ballot.
That sounds innocuous, except that the legislatures that pass these measures and the governors that sign them are almost exclusively Republican, and the voters who would be most affected are disproportionately black, Hispanic, elderly and urban — groups that tend to vote Democratic.
If you smell a rat here, you're right. This is less about vote protection than vote suppression. Among the most flagrant examples:
- Requiring voter ID. In theory there's nothing wrong with requiring voters to show photo ID. We've long supported the practice, but with an important proviso. Because an estimated 11% of eligible voters lack photo ID, states that impose the requirement should phase it in and ensure IDs are easy and cheap to get. But that's not what states typically do. A 2012 report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that ID offices are often far from where people live and open at inconvenient times. Within hours of the Supreme Court's ruling in June, Texas announced that it would impose a photo ID requirement that had originally been denied preclearance by a federal court. The Justice Department rightly announced last week that it would take legal action to block the law.
- Purging voter rolls. Florida humiliated itself last year when Gov. Rick Scott declared that there were "an alarming number of non-citizens on the voter rolls" and announced an effort to purge them. The state produced a list of 182,000 potential non-citizen voters, which eventually dwindled to 2,600 and then to 198 and finally to fewer than 40, drawing widespread criticism that the effort was intended to intimidate legal voters, especially Hispanics. The Supreme Court's June ruling freed the state to resume the campaign.
- Cutting back on early voting. As part of a package of plainly discriminatory voting restrictions, North Carolina cut its early voting from 17 days to 10, ostensibly to save money. Considering that 70% of blacks in the state voted early last year, according to the ACLU, the real motive isn't hard to deduce.
Securing the gains of the civil rights movement, Obama said Wednesday, "requires vigilance" and "challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote." Yes, it does.
Advocates of voter restrictions often justify them by saying it's an outrage when even one ineligible voter casts a vote. But it's even more outrageous when eligible voters are denied their most fundamental right. There's a reasonable middle ground, but it won't be found by mimicking tactics of the segregated '60s.