What to Know about America’s Voter Rights as We Enter Primary Season

Whether or not America is well-liked today, it is genuinely agreed that the U.S. has been a longstanding symbol of freedom and democracy across the globe. In a true democracy, the country’s citizens constitute the governing body. They get a say in local laws, politicians, and policies by way of voting. But here in the United States, are we really truly a true democracy? Does each of our votes hold equal power? These are critical questions we must grapple with as we vote in the primaries and begin to ponder who will be the next President of the United States (in less than a year’s time!) 

Put simply, the votes that are counted in our country are disproportionately coming from White citizens, omitting the perspectives and voices of millions of minority citizens. Voting is a fundamental human right, and yet: voting I.D. laws, racial gerrymandering, and criminal disenfranchisement systematically bar millions of minority people from that right    

 

Though it may be a nice thought to believe that we are moving forward in promoting equal opportunities for minorities, our society seems to only get farther away from promoting voter equality; the final ruling in the court case of Shelby County v. Holder stands as a testament to that sad reality.

Since voting came to be in America, there have always been a number of voting practices and rules that were created to silence minorities’ voices, particularly the voices of African Americans. After the Civil War, several Southern states adopted oppressive voting regulations, like literacy tests, to bar African Americans from voting.

    Since then, reactive pieces of legislation have been passed to try and mitigate some of the effects of our history of racist voting practices. 

But in June 2013 - only six years ago - the decades-old Voting Rights Act of 1965 was essentially undone. The court ruled that Section 4(b) of the act was unconstitutional on the basis that the specific 4(b) section was ‘no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the equal sovereignty of the states,’ essentially saying: protecting minorities’ rights is too much of a ‘burden.’ 

The court’s portrayal of the provision as ‘outdated,’ is deeply concerning and questionable, because it seems to suggest that discrimination is no longer an issue still today. Section 4(b) determined which jurisdictions could be subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting, and without that key provision, Southern states with a history of discrimination have since been granted the freedom to pass local voting policies without federal supervision.        

 

On top of that, because of the growing mass incarceration of people of color, criminal disenfranchisement also stands as a way that voting restrictions deliberately target minority groups. Historically, felony disenfranchisement has actually always been rooted in racism. The fact that 10 states still use felony disenfranchisement - a practice that was designed to deter freed slaves from voting - shows just how flawed our voting practices have remained. Though racism is heavily intertwined with felony disenfranchisement, it is hard to pinpoint just where the overlap occurs, ultimately allowing individual states’ governments to get away with racist practices.

Because of the subtle nature of some of these actions, this issue has gone under-reported. Though many left-leaning news publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post have done their fair share of research and reporting on voter’s rights, (with very clear messages) “Do voter identification laws suppress minority voting? YES. We did the research!” Other right-leaning publications have been lacking. This is likely because, by addressing that these behaviors and new policies are racially motivated, they would be proving that voter I.D. laws and criminal disenfranchisement are all just a means to an end of separating out minority voters.             

 

 

Voter I.D. laws and criminal disenfranchisement are both very divisive topics; some conservative politicians will continue to depict these policies in a different light to appeal to their constituents; while most liberals will maintain that these policies are blatant forms of voter suppression. No matter one’s perspective or stance on the topic, we must all do more to promote the values that American policies were built upon. 

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is a uniquely American phrase, associated with the so-called ‘freedom’ that ‘everyone’ in our country has access to. But we must ponder: if we firmly believe that all men are really considered to be equal, as the Declaration of Independence states so clearly, how is that systematic discrimination still persists today in our voting system?

    For those who have the privilege to do so, use your voice to catalyze change. Get out there and vote!