Voter Protection Still Needed 47 Years After the Enactment of the Voting Rights Act
By Claudio Romano
The Editorial Board of The Organizer presents this important article below by Claudio Romano because of the threats to our democratic rights posed by a wing of the ruling class which seeks to suppress the very right of working people to vote for the candidates of their choice. It is important to note that we are not endorsing any candidate in the upcoming 2012 presidential elections. We see the Democratic and Republican parties’ duopoly of political power representing essentially the same class interests — the interests of the bosses. We see no alternative in this election that points the way forward for working people on a clear, independent working class orientation. But we are opposed to any and every attempt to restrict or suppress the right to vote — which represents an historic conquest of the working class.
Working people do in fact need a real choice: a Labor Party based on the trade unions and the communities of the oppressed. Only such a party can really represent our class, the great majority of working-class people, against the ruling rich. To compete in the electoral arena, it will be necessary for every working person, every member of an oppressed community, to be able to cast his/her vote — and have it counted. And for that, it will be necessary to stop the attacks on voting rights and on the overall disenfranchisement of working people and all the oppressed in this country.
by Claudio Romano
With the elections coming, the question of voter protection and the franchise has acquired greater importance than at any other time since the days of the Civil Rights movement.
Since the Obama election, there have been a plethora of bills proposed in 41 states, and passed in almost 30 states, to limit the right to vote. Already with early voting there have been problems for Latino voters in Nevada and Arizona. These laws constitute the biggest wave of restrictions of the democratic rights of the overall population since the days of McCarthyism.
These measures dovetail seamlessly with the overall attack on union workers’ rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights, workers’ right to organize a union, and the overall rise of racism in the country.
Overall what is at stake is the right to vote and elect people into political office, a basic gain. Today, a whole wing of the ruling class seeks to take that right away — or to limit it severely, at the very least.
Attacks Mounting Since 2008
In 2008 a revolt took place within the Democratic Party against the candidate of the establishment – Hillary Clinton — and in support of Barack Obama, a Black man who promised change and was somewhat outside the establishment. Voter registration among and workers, Blacks, and Latinos, sky-rocketed. Virginia saw Black male voters come out in the biggest numbers since the days of Radical Reconstruction. In Nevada, working people won the right to vote at work in non-general elections, a right that practically no workers in the world have. On Election Day in 2008, there were so many people involved in voter protection as volunteers that any attempt at fraud was soundly defeated.
On April 29, 2009 — the 100th day of Barack Obama’s administration — the Supreme Court heard arguments in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Eric Holder Jr., a case brought by right-wing lawyers to try to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the biggest gains of the working-class Black and Mexican-American people in the history of the nation. Their strategy was to find a test case from a tiny, virtually all-white municipal district in Texas, to have Section 5 — often called the heart of the Voting Rights Act — declared unconstitutional.
The Voting Rights Act has significantly protected Black, Latino, Native American, and Asian-American voters.
Counties covered under Section 5 are also the sites of recent acts of voter intimidation.
In Boynton, Fla., people have gone through African-American neighborhoods saying that anyone who has outstanding warrants, owes child support or even has an outstanding traffic ticket would be arrested. Police officers have been stationed outside polling places.
In Maricopa County Arizona, the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Latino voters have been given wrong information about the date of Election Day, and the county registrar has sought to intimidate unions and other groups registering people by telling them that it is a felony to hold someone else’s registration, something untrue.
Moreover, for over three decades, officials in Waller County, Texas, have tried to prevent students at the historically Black Prairie View A&M University from voting. (In 2004, the county commissioners voted to reduce early voting because Prairie View A&M students would be on break the day of the primary election. The county only abandoned this effort to suppress Black turnout when the university chapter of the NAACP brought a Section 5 enforcement action.)
In Nevada, half the voters vote early. Early voting started on October 20, 2012. In past elections there were numerous voter intimidation issues in Latino areas. This year, there are already hundreds of challenges by right-wingers of Latino votes in the process of early voting. And we are not even on Election Day!
In Pennsylvania this year’s voter ID law was struck down. Still, voters are being asked for an ID. Confusion remains, and that could lead to polling place slowdowns, with some volunteer poll workers turning away voters and voters not showing up to vote under the mistaken belief they won’t be allowed to cast a ballot.
This summer in Florida, one anti-voter rights group began circulating lists of eligible voters they claimed were not eligible to vote and urged county officials to purge them from the voting rolls. Thus far, Section 5 of the Act, alongside public outcry, has been an instrumental tool in defeating anti-democratic laws enacted in five states. But the work is far from done.
Legacy of Jim Crow and Voter Protection
In 2008, Obama received 47 percent of the white vote in non-Section 5 covered states. But in states covered under the Act, he only received 26 percent. In Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — all of which are covered by Section 5 — less than 15 percent of white voters chose Obama.
If the Supreme Court had declared Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional that would have been a serious blow to democratic rights. For the time being the right win failed, but they will try again. Although more than 30 states have passed restrictive laws, these will be in effect in only 13 states, though some are very populous, because of court challenges resulting from Section 5. Nonetheless, in many states these laws will be allowed to become effective on January 1, 2013.
Because of the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College, a legacy from the earlier days of the republic when only a tiny minority of white men could vote, the U.S. president is elected by this college — and not by the popular vote. In 2000 Al Gore had more votes than George W. Bush, but Bush had more votes in the Electoral College because of the Supreme Court decision upholding the Florida count. Thus Bush won. This problem could be easily solved by making the Electoral College proportional to the state’s actual vote. But with the exception of Nebraska, where the Populists won that change, and Maine, where Labor won that change, all of the states’ Electoral Colleges are run on a winner-take-all basis.
Under capitalism, all democratic gains are always under attack. It is our first and foremost duty to fight such attacks.
As of the 2010 Census, there were more than 21 million Latino citizens of voting age in the United States — 10 percent of the nation’s eligible voters. However, nearly 6.3 million, or 29.4 percent, reported that they were unregistered, and 10.8 million, or 50.8 percent, reported that they did not vote. Latino voter participation does not have to be low. Puerto Rico has one of the highest registration and voting rates in the United States at more than 80 percent; but after moving from the Island, Puerto Rican voter turnout drops to 30 percent. A significant part of this decline is caused by discriminatory structural voting barriers.
An estimated 4.6 million new and eligible-to-naturalize Latino citizens may have become qualified to vote since 2010. This comes to a total of more than 25.6 million Latino citizens in the electorate for the 2012 elections. This year, an unprecedented number of voting restrictions impose barriers to voting that disproportionately affect the Latino community. These restrictions take on four forms: early voting restrictions, voter purges, proof of citizenship laws, and photo-ID laws.
Four Main Forms of Voting Restrictions
(1) Early-voting restrictions
Early voting is a bizarre creature of the U.S. capitalist formation. In most countries elections take place on a Sunday, a day when most people don’t work. In the U.S., because at the beginning of the republic elections were restricted to about only 15 percent of the population, and the better-off part of that, elections became an event of the workday designed for those who didn’t work as hard or didn’t work at all.
To compensate somewhat, early voting has been allowed. But with voting becoming harder and harder, early voting has become a panacea for voter turnout. In 2008 only 10% of the electorate voted early. This election this number is expected to rise to 30%. Barack Obama has become the first president ever to vote early — a clear signal to the Black community, union members, and others of the need to get out now and not wait for Election Day challenges.
In Washington state, all voting will be early and by mail as Washington abolished the polling place. Tellingly, Washington has one of the highest, if not the highest, voter turnout rates in the country.
Not wanting a high voter turnout, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have passed restrictions on early voting. Ohio also tried but was stricken down by the courts.
(2) Voter purges
As of August 2012, 16 states have adopted or are pursuing citizenship-related purges of already registered voters. This had never happened before in U.S. history. These campaigns have targeted naturalized citizens. In 2010, there were nearly 5.5 million registered Latino voters in these 16 states, and more than 1.1 million naturalized citizens from Latin America.
As naturalized citizens, they are targets for removal from the voter rolls unless they can prove their citizenship, despite the fact that they have taken an oath of citizenship and are legally registered to vote. Latinos who are U.S.-born citizens are still vulnerable, as many live in mixed-status families and communities, and are likely to feel intimidated by challenges to their immigration status.
In July 2012, 13 states, led by Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, petitioned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for access to its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) data for the purpose of identifying possible non-citizens to purge from voter rolls. On July 14, the DHS told a federal court that Florida will have access to SAVE data and that five Arizona counties already have access.
On August 14, the DHS entered into a memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the state of Florida permitting it access to SAVE for the purposes of verifying its voter registration rolls. On August 22, the DHS entered into a similar MOA with Colorado for similar purposes. Both Colorado and Florida have identified voters to be investigated by comparing their voter registration rolls with driver’s license databases showing which voters had identified themselves as immigrants when they procured their licenses.
But naturalized citizens typically received their driver’s licenses when they were legal immigrants but before becoming naturalized citizens (and before registering to vote); therefore, this method generates lists of voters to be checked that targets naturalized citizens.
Yet there is little evidence of non-citizens casting ballots. The Carnegie-Knight investigative report about voter fraud in the U.S. found only 10 cases of alleged, in-person voter impersonation since 2000. Out of 146 million registered voters, this represents one instance of voter impersonation for every 15 million potential voters. News21 also conducted an extensive survey of state and local election officials, showing that the nation has received 2,068 allegations of voter fraud since 2000. In the entire nation, only 56, or 2.7 percent, of the 2,068 accusations of voter fraud since 2000 involved non-citizens casting an ineligible vote.
Nonetheless, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kansas, among, others have asked for access to federal immigration data to purge their voter rolls. In July 2012, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz issued emergency rules to compare the state’s voter list against unspecified state and federal databases — and gave voters 14 days to contest the designation before removing them from the rolls. Since then, ACLU and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed suit alleging that the purges are likely to improperly remove naturalized citizens from the rolls. In addition to the issues raised about the states’ methods of deciding which voters should have their citizenship status checked, the federal SAVE immigration data is not a complete or accurate indicator of citizenship status. There is no single list of U.S. citizens.
In the 16 states pursuing citizenship purges, Latinos and other communities of color comprise a large and disproportionate percentage of the naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote but may be improperly targeted for purges. According to federal census data, in 2006 to 2010, there were more than 1.1 million Latino naturalized citizens; 930,000 Asian American and Pacific Islander naturalized citizens; and 460,000 Black naturalized citizens. More than 75 percent of the total naturalized citizens in these 16 states were Black, Latino, or Asian. In addition voter registration has become harder in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Florida also tried but its proposed law, literally to prohibit registration and early voting on Sundays, has also been stricken by the courts.
(3) Proof of citizenship laws
As of August 2012, several states have adopted, and another ten states have proposed, laws requiring additional documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote. As with the voter purges based on alleged non-citizenship, state laws requiring documentary proof of citizenship — such as a certified birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers — to register to vote were previously unheard of in the U.S.
That changed in 2004 when Arizona passed Proposition 200, which required prospective voters to provide specific documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote. State records show that an average of 15,000 Arizona voter registration forms per year were rejected because they did not provide sufficient documentation of citizenship.
On April 17, 2012, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif., struck down Arizona’s documentary proof of citizenship voter registration requirement, ruling that it was pre-empted by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA, a gain of the mass movement, was enacted to increase voter registration in the United States by making it easier, not more difficult, to register to vote. Arizona has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, however. Whether the nation’s highest court will intervene in these elections as it did in 2000 is yet unclear, but the factors which determine whether it will or not, depend largely on the degree of mobilization of the masses for democratic rights.
Since 2010, 14 states have introduced legislation requiring proof of citizenship. Documentary proof of citizenship is currently required as a precondition for voter registration in Georgia, and it may be required in Alabama and Arizona later this year.
Until these recent laws, people registering to vote could establish a range of eligibility requirements — including voting age, citizenship, and residency — by swearing under penalty of perjury their compliance with these requirements. Once their registration was accepted they did not have to present further proof at the polls. Federal law imposes severe penalties for intentionally and falsely claiming eligibility to vote, including up to five years in prison, $10,000 in fines, and deportation.
These new voter registration laws require voters to provide documents that state officials deem satisfactory to prove citizenship. This means providing a certified birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers, all of which impose significant time and financial burdens and take time to get. In effect, the requirement to provide such imposes a de-facto poll tax, something prohibited since the abolition of Jim Crow. Furthermore, it shifts the burden of proof away from the state to show wrongdoing, to the potential voter to show she/he is not committing fraud. This is a major blow to democratic rights which unfortunately has gone unnoticed.
(4) Photo-ID laws
As of October 2012, nine states have tried to pass laws requiring strict state-issued photo identification before allowing registered voters to cast a regular ballot. Five of these states’ restrictive photo ID laws are currently in effect. These new photo ID laws are notable for how restrictive they are; they severely limit acceptable forms of ID that voters may show at the polls to current, state-issued photo IDs, generally eliminating common forms of identification such as veteran’s ID cards, utility bills, student IDs, social security cards, and out-of-state and expired driver’s licenses.
Restrictive photo ID requirements have a discriminatory impact on Latinos, Native Americans, Blacks, and Asians. It can be difficult, costly, and sometimes impossible to get the type of state-issued ID needed to vote. In order to obtain a state-issued photo ID, most states require up to four underlying forms of identification to prove legal presence, identity, and residency. Such identification may include a certified birth certificate, a passport, and/or Social Security card. Many such records have errors or the names do not match.
In some states, the wait to get a copy of a birth certificate or other records can be months. It is estimated that 16 percent of Latinos do not possess a requisite photo identification compared to 6 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. Puerto Rico has a particularly bad problem. Due to the invalidation of Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before 2010, stateside Puerto Ricans face a double burden: first, they have to obtain a new Puerto Rican birth certificate; then they must use this certificate to apply for an official state photo ID.
Mexican Americans and other Latinos also experience the harsh impact of these restrictive photo ID laws. In Wisconsin, a university study found that 57 percent of Latino and 78 percent of African-American young men lacked a driver’s license, compared to 36 percent of young white men. In Texas, based on the state’s own data, Latino registered voters are far more likely to not possess a driver’s license or other state-required photo ID compared to non-Latino registered voters.
Voter fraud, which voter suppression laws are purported to protect against, is virtually nonexistent. For example, in Pennsylvania, the state admitted that there were zero instances of in-person voter fraud. Thus its voter restrictive law was blocked by the courts. The same in Arizona. Yet 37 state legislatures have enacted or considered tough voter ID laws.
Additionally, the Justice Department has found that in places like Texas, it would be more difficult for Latino voters and other people of color to obtain the required photo ID as approximately 401,000 Latinos and 93,000 Blacks live in 127 Texas counties without access to an ID-issuing office. The time and financial costs entailed by the new photo ID laws pose real barriers to voting for many Latino, Black and Asian citizens and their families.
Restrictive photo ID laws in all or parts of these five states are now in place for the 2012 elections. More than 750,000 eligible Latino voters live in these five states. Four other states have enacted photo ID requirements that are not in effect either due to federal pre-clearance proceedings or ongoing litigation. There are more than 4.7 million eligible Latino voters in these four states. All told, restrictive ID laws cover 32 percent of the swing margins a presidential candidate would need to win.
The 2000 Election All Over Again?
In 2000 George W. Bush was elected president with a minority of the popular vote. Had the votes of disenfranchised Black and Florida voters being taken into account, Bush would have lost by an even greater margin to Al Gore and perhaps would not have been elected by the Electoral College, making unnecessary the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, which put Bush into office.
The impact of these voter suppression statutes is tremendous. There are 23 states in which citizenship-based purges, registration barriers, and/or photo ID restrictions are in effect or could be in effect by the 2012 elections. There are more than 10 million eligible Latino voters in these states who could be deterred or prevented from voting in the 2012 elections due to these barriers.
In Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, the number of eligible Latino citizens that could be affected by these barriers exceeds the margin of victory in each of those states during the 2008 presidential election. In Florida, eligible Latino voters alone amount to nine times the 2008 margin of victory and unregistered Latinos constitute four times the margin of victory. In Colorado, eligible Latino voters alone are twice the 2008 presidential margin of victory, while unregistered Latino citizens alone exceed the margin of victory. In other so-called swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, eligible Latino and Black voters comprise their state’s 2008 presidential margin of victory
Voting was one of the basic gains of the First American Revolution of 1776, the Second American Revolution of 1860-65, or Civil War, and the partial political revolution in the South of the Civil Rights movement abolishing Jim Crow in the early 1960s, as well as that of 1919, which allowed three quarters of American women the right to vote. Latino, Blacks, and Asians are fast becoming a majority within the United States — but not a voting majority, due to these anti democratic measures.
In 2012, right-wing politicians of both parties in the aforementioned states are undermining voter participation by Latinos, Blacks, and Asians. Through laws targeting naturalized citizens, poor people without ID and/or a passport, the right wing is threatening constitutional guarantees of equal protection and the right to vote.
The AFL-CIO has called for mobilizations in support of voter protection before and on Election Day. So have the many unions not in the AFL-CIO. Already more than 200 union locals and internationals have committed resources to voter protection. Indeed, the AFL-CIO, for the first time in its history, has set up a national command center to deal with voter intimidation and voter restrictions. This are all the correct things to do. However the leadership of the unions is focusing its efforts only on “swing states.” Namely states which are key for the Obama campaign to win the Electoral College vote, such as Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Florida.
We in The Organizer disagree with this approach. We stand strongly and actively for voter protection, but we believe it should be done everywhere where the right to vote is under attack — not only in swing states. On Election Day and before, workers will go to vote not just for president but also for many other issues, candidates, and propositions. Workers also have the right to vote for other presidential candidates besides Barack Obama, such as the candidates of the Socialist Party, Green Party, Peace and Freedom Party, and others.
In short, the unions must defend the right to vote everywhere, and particularly there where there have been attacks upon working people’s right to vote!