Voting rights battle heats up as midterms near

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto/Lyndon B. Johnson Museum and Library

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, people of color are still fighting to protect this basic democratic freedom.

A controversial 2013 Supreme Court ruling struck down a portion of the historic 1965 law and gave several states new powers to revise their election laws.

Voting rights have been tested this month as recent court rulings have given blacks, Latinos and low-income voters a temporary win — and in one case, perhaps, a short-term loss — in states where restrictive voter-ID laws exist.

The fight to stop voter disenfranchisement is intensifying as elections across the country in November could tip the balance of power in the Senate toward the GOP.

In states where strict voter-ID laws are being challenged, rights groups say such rules could discourage minority and low-income voters who don’t have the required government ID from coming to the polls.

Just to the north of us, the Supreme Court recently stepped in to block Wisconsin’s new law requiring photo identification from voters. Opponents of the law, which Wisconsin adopted in 2011, said there wasn’t enough time to inform voters of the requirement or to distribute necessary identification before the Nov. 4 election, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The Supreme Court ruling puts the law on hold until it can decide whether to take up the issue after the election.

However, a voter-ID law in Texas, called “intentionally discriminatory” by a state Democratic leader, was allowed to stand by the Supreme Court last weekend. But not without scathing dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The law’s photo-identification requirements, Ginsburg wrote, “may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters from voting in person for lack of compliant identification.” Ginsburg further stated that, “a sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.” Texas was one of nine states affected by the change to the Voting Rights Act.

Laws requiring voters to provide government ID, such as a driver’s license or state ID, are often touted by GOP legislators as a deterrent to voter fraud. But claims of fraud are often exaggerated, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. And when faced with the costs and bureaucracy involved in getting the ID required by some states, some minority and low-income voters simply opt to skip the polls on Election Day.

It is not the outcome that legions of civil rights activists who fought long and hard for the right to vote had in mind.

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