This November, we’ll have the first presidential election since the Supreme Court gutted some protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act back in 2013.
Since then, every change in states freed from federal oversight was designed to make it harder for minorities, the poor, the elderly and the young to vote — most likely for Democrats, in states governed by Republicans.
Only, it is not only minorities who will be affected. An unintended consequence of this suppression could be that poor, working-class white voters who want to register for the first time to vote for Donald Trump could find themselves shut out under the same rules designed to make it harder for more left-leaning minority voters to cast ballots.
It was only after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that African Americans and other minority voters began to enjoy the protection of federal law. Under that law, states with a history of minority voter suppression had to get “pre-clearance” for all changes in voting procedures and poll locations to make sure these changes didn’t keep eligible voters from casting ballots.
Then, however, the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder eliminated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act, which had mandated federal review of changes. That decision called the mandate outdated, and not reflective of changes that had narrowed the voting gap over the last 50 years.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, saying the court’s decision was like “getting rid of an umbrella in the middle of a rainstorm just because you were not getting wet.”
She was right. A study by a consortium of political science and law scholars after Shelby found “clear and statistically significant evidence” that discrimination is still widespread today, though often in different forms, and remains more widespread in Voting Rights Act-covered jurisdictions than elsewhere.
It is no accident that eight of the nine states that were under federal jurisdiction moved quickly to enact voter suppression laws under the guise of protecting Americans against some imaginary threat of voter fraud.
Texas, for example, added a requirement for voter identification that accepted a passport, driver license, concealed weapon permit and U.S. military photo ID, but not other federal, state, municipal, or legitimate university student ID. The crude reality is that if a citizen has a license to carry a weapon, she can vote, but not with a valid student ID. If you live close to a Department of Motor Vehicles office and pay the application fee for a license (which effectively becomes a poll tax), you can vote.
Arizona created pandemonium during primaries this spring when 70 percent of polling sites in Phoenix’s Maricopa County and rural areas were eliminated, forcing waits of five hours in some places. North Carolina is among states that cut back early voting and eliminated same-day voter registration.
Voter suppression is a long and dishonorable tradition in a country that blocked full electoral participation for freed African Americans, Native Americans and women from its inception.
Election Day is supposed to be the one day when every citizen is equal — unless that equality is curtailed, for partisan reasons, by those who see voting as something for some of the people, some of the time. Though if enough Trump voters were affected, maybe that would change Republican minds about the seriousness of the threat of in-person voter fraud.
Jaime Estades, a lawyer, is president and founder of the New York-based Latino Leadership Institute.