|Principal Writer:||Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman|
|Understanding The Issue|
Reported NewsElections: Voting Rights
Related BillsVoting Rights Act
Related Court Cases(2017) Cooper v. Harris
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How should we decide who votes?
Voting is the core of a democracy., and elections should be above reproach. Most would agree on several features of elections needed to achieve that objective.
The country has a mixed history of achieving these objectives.
Who has been allowed to vote over time?
The right to vote used to be restricted to certain segments of the population. It is only within the past 100 years that women have been allowed to vote.
Landmark expansions on voting rights include...
|1787||White male property owners at least 21 years old|
|1843||White men at least 21 years old|
|1870||Men at least 21 years old (15th Amendment)|
|1920||Men and women at least 21 years old (19th Amendment)|
|1971||Men and women at least 18 years old (26th Amendment)|
Blacks in the South could not vote
African Americans were given the constitutional right to vote in 1870. Over next 30 years, 22 served in Congress. All were from southern states.
That changed around 1900 in the South. States such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina concocted methods to keep blacks from voting. These methods were part of what was referred to as Jim Crow laws.
Many of these restrictions affected poor whites also. There was a remedy for some of these, however. If a person failed a literacy test or did not own property, they still would be allowed to vote if their grandfather had been allowed to vote. Though this grandfather clause applied to blacks as well as whites, virtually no black person in the South had a grandfather who had been able to vote during the slave era.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act changed much
Two major changes to voting laws led to what many consider the end of the Jim Crow era and the disenfranchisement of black voters.
In 1964, the Constitution's 24th Amendment eliminated poll taxes.
The following year, Pres. Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act .
Under the Voting Rights Act, polling places no longer could require a test of knowledge or character before allowing a person to vote. Nor could they intimidate citizens into not voting.
Also, jurisdictions that had used such practices in the past that wanted to make changes to their election practices would need to pre-clear the changes with federal government.
The law became one of the most successful in U.S. history. Within its first year, more than a quarter of a million new black voters had been registered. This chart shows the long-term effects on voter registration rates in affected states...
Data compiled from Congressional reports and cited in the 2013 Shelby County v Holder Supreme Court decision
Discrimination surfaces in other forms
Old discrimination tactics such as poll taxes and literacy tests have essentially been vanquished. . But attempts to disenfranchise minority voters have not ended. The methods simply take on new forms...
In the past 15 years, the Department of Justice has turned down 86 requests for election changes. But that understates the problem. Between 1999 and 2005, more than 250 changes were withdrawn or replaced by altered submissions after the Department of Justice requested more information.
Voter ID - For some they can be nearly impossible to get
A recent barrier to voting has been state laws requiring voters to show a government-issued identification card when they vote.
Voter ID laws make it nearly impossible for approximately 10 percent of eligible voters to vote, according to a 2012 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.
There's no such thing as a free ID
Though the IDs themselves are supposed to be provided at no cost, the supporting identification required to obtain the ID - such as a birth certificate - do cost money. Married women whose names differ from that on their birth certificate also are required to provide a marriage certificate. In Wisconsin, the most expensive state to obtain both documents, the total cost ranges from $5 to $40.
Many people live far from state offices
A more imposing barrier is getting to a state office that issues the required ID. More than a million voters who don't have valid voter identification live more than 10 miles from the nearest office. About 500,000 of those do not have access to a car.
"By definition, eligible voters who need photo ID will not have a driver's license, so they cannot drive themselves to a government office," the report points out. States with the most restrictive voter ID laws also are among those that spend the least in public transportation.
It isn't just where. It's when
Someone who successfully overcomes those barriers still faces an overwhelming challenge - the state offices are open for limited and erratic hours. Many are not open on every weekday, or are open for fewer than eight hours a day.
Just finding out when an office is open can be a problem. In Georgia, most county offices do not make their business hours easily accessible online, and some have incorrect addresses and phone numbers listed.
"Even when contacted directly, county offices in Georgia frequently gave incorrect information about free IDs," the report states.
More is coming
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