Chase Dean is a political science senior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not represent the viewpoints or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
For a democracy to flourish, citizens must be afforded the ability to democratically elect their public officials in order to shape policy that has a profound impact on the lives of themselves and many others. Many minority communities were not afforded this right until Congress finally passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ending much of the de jure separating them from voting. Hailed as one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in United States history, the act made immense strides toward granting democratic power to marginalized communities.
In 2013, however, those very strides came to a screeching halt.
In a Supreme Court case titled Shelby County v. Holder, the court ruled that it was unconstitutional to use the formula described to determine which jurisdictions are subject to the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act. This requirement mandated that certain states with histories of voter discrimination such as Alabama and Georgia were required to seek preclearance for any new voting law changes. This was a tremendous blow to voting right advancements for marginalized folks belonging to states with high rates of discrimination.
Many new laws have arisen to further suppress minority voting rights such as requiring voters to show some form of identification, racist and partisan gerrymandering tactics and purging voter rolls. It is due to this Supreme Court case that a new voting rights act should be introduced to combat the regression of progress made by this decision.
There are three key proposals that could immediately restore power to minority voters.
The first aspect of this bill should be to automatically register citizens to vote once they turn 18. This would not only make the voting process a lot simpler in regards to getting people registered to vote, but also make the transfer of information a lot easier. Additionally, this could be an appropriate step in addressing the purging of names from voter rolls, as this is a big problem in minority communities. Every citizen would be registered unless they choose to opt-out.
One hurdle voters must overcome when it comes to election day is finding the time to go out and vote. With that being said, declaring election day as a federal holiday would allow individuals to take the time off of work to actually research candidates and to vote thus potentially increasing voter turnout. Not only could the day off lead to more citizens voting, but it could also lead to an increase polling volunteers, which could further ease the election process and create more polling locations across states.
Lastly, a portion of a new voting rights act should be to restore the preclearance clause originally embedded in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court did not rule that the entire section was unconstitutional, but rather just the formula being used. If Congress could draft a new formula to be applied to protect minority voters from discriminatory practices, then it could potentially be constitutional. In addition, the Supreme Court claimed there was not enough current evidence to warrant the preclearance clause back in 2013. However, after the 2016 elections, it is clear that there is current evidence that voter discrimination is occurring. The evidence ranges from unacceptable wait times for minority voters as a result of fewer polling locations being offered to federal courts ruling legislation like voter identification laws and redistricting maps intentionally used to discriminate against minority voters.
Curbing discrimination of voters from marginalized communities should be a priority for lawmakers. As the stakes at risk in elections continue to rise, every citizen, no matter their background, should be afforded an equal opportunity for their voice to be heard. A new voting rights act is needed to truly restore the right to vote to communities faced with rampant discrimination.