Reflections on Suffrage November 5, 2013 2 Comments Share tweet Nick Ahamed Vol. 246 Managing Editor of Opinions By: Nick Ahamed | Vol. 246 Managing Editor of Opinions Today is Election Day. It was one year ago that Barack Obama was re-elected and 165 years ago that the first presidential election took place on “the day after the first Monday of November.” In many ways we’ve come far since then, namely through the expansion of voting rights in amendments 14, 15, 17, 19, 23, 24 and 26. Yet, we’ve seen a troubling reversal of these trends as of late. 1965 saw significant progress as Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4 of that law established a formula for identifying states and counties where voting rights were not equal. The states and counties singled out by Section 4 were then subject to various regulations that sought to improve voting equality. Sadly, in June of this year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al. In so doing, they invalidated much of the rest of the law. A majority of the court felt that the need for the law is outdated: “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” While perhaps the Court was right that the 1975 formula could be updated, the need for strong voter protection laws is needed now as much as ever. Fully 34 states have now passed voter ID legislation. While mandating an ID to vote sounds reasonable, it is entirely problematic for our democracy. The Wall Street Journal reports that 11 percent of Americans do not have the required identification. This broad trend is even more frightening when you look at specific demographics. South Carolina’s law makes minorities 20 percent more likely to be disenfranchised than white registered voters. Nationwide, about 25 percent of African-Americans lack the requisite photo ID of many states’ laws. Mother Jones reports that nine states have enacted legislation that is tougher on women. These laws, most recently passed in Texas, mandate that an individual’s voting records and photo identification match. For women who change names after they marry, but do not immediately change their names for all documents about 34 percent of voting-age female citizens voting will be harder. Young people too will face new barriers. Just over 60 percent of 18-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2008. This is especially troublesome given the young people’s historically low turnout in elections. In 2012, only 41.2 percent of people aged 18 to 24 voted, compared to 66.3 percent of citizens over the age of 30. Stopping voter fraud is a noble task. But, is it mere coincidence that it is largely Democratic supporters who are affected? After all, Obama won the African-American vote by 87 percentage points, women by 11 points and 18- to 29-year-olds by 23 points. The Pennsylvania state House Republican leader, Mike Tuzai, put it more bluntly: Voter ID “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania’s law ended up being blocked by a judge in Applewhite, et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al in October 2012. Even still, 35,000 citizens were deterred from voting by the mere possibility of voter identification checks. Nevertheless, President Obama carried the state by 5 points. These statistics are deeply sobering and do not sit well with our principles of government. Indeed, Thomas Paine wrote in 1795, “The true and only true basis of representative government is equality of rights. Every man has a right to one vote, and no more in the choice of representatives.” We should be expanding access to voting, not restricting it, especially not for partisan gain. That being said, states’ power to regulate voting rights is a double-edged sword. We have seen, on the one side, their willingness to revoke them. However, with little hope of Congressional action on the matter, it enables us to make more of a difference. State legislators are more accessible than congressmen. They also hold smaller districts and are more accountable to you. As you reflect on your suffrage this Election Day, I encourage you to reach out to your state representative and see where he or she stands on voting rights. Nick Ahamad at firstname.lastname@example.org. civic engagement election day voting rights 2013-11-05 Nick Ahamed November 5, 2013 2 Comments Share tweet Subscribe Click here to subscribe to our daily newsletter of top headlines.