Dying to Vote: Countering Strategic Efforts to Suppress Voting Rights
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, a lecture on voting rights in the United States was hosted by Chris Deluzio, a counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program. The Brennan Center has been instrumental in pushing back against restrictive laws and harsh voter ID laws and voter registration restrictions. This lecture is the second of three programs, and is sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Saratoga County.
The lecture opened with a question from the President of the Saratoga chapter of the LWV, who asked why the auditorium was not full when the lecture is about a subject that has been discussed often, stating that people may not care about the issue unless it affects them. As an example of the issue’s relevance, she brought up the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors’ recent vote to reject calls for early voting and automatic registration. The Board claimed it was too costly to implement, but a cost analysis was not provided.
Deluzio began by detailing the history of voting rights in the United States. Originally, the right to vote was limited to white, property owning men, but it was gradually expanded, thanks to constitutional reforms, by reducing voting age from 21 to 18, allowing people of all races and genders to vote, and eliminating the poll tax. Other key measures included the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which made it easier for Americans to vote and to maintain their registration, and the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which computerized the voter databases at the state level.
At the same time, however, there have been measures in place that have prevented the American people from voting. In the years after the Civil War, “Black Codes” were put in place by Southern states in order to circumvent the 14th and 15th Amendments and continue to suppress the newly freed African-Americans. The 1965 Voting Rights Act reversed those measures and required pre-clearance for election law changes for states with discriminatory history. In recent years, the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder challenged pre-clearance, and as of Feb. 2018, at least 28 bills to restrict registration and voting were introduced in 14 states.
Deluzio attributes this to the flawed voter registration system in place, which needs lots of resources before it can be fixed. In 2012, one in eight registrations were rendered invalid or inaccurate. There are approximately 51 million eligible, but unregistered, voters, with 6.1 million Americans unable to vote due to felony convictions — something which affects minorities significantly. Out of those 6.1 million, 4.7 million of them are out of prison and face a variety of restrictions, with most states requiring completion of sentences, fines, fees, etc. New York’s laws enable voters with felony convictions to vote on probation, but not on parole, but each state’s laws vary.
The problem of suppressing voter rights is quite prevalent today. Misinformation in the higher parts of government have been seen in President Trump’s various claims of the elections being rigged, something that Deluzio calls “ridiculous” and the Brennan Center has found no substantiation for. These claims led to the creation of the Pence-Kobach Commission — the short-lived Commission that was intended to deal with voter fraud. It should be noted that both Pence and Kobach have a problematic history with voting rights, with Pence making his own voter fraud claims during the presidential campaign, and Kobach supporting strict voter ID laws in Kansas.
One solution Deluzio listed was some of the things the Brennan Center has been doing to increase voter turnout. He advocated for automatic and electronic registration, which would increase registration rates and accuracy, and reduce costs. He used the states of Oregon, Arizona, and Washington as examples of where voter registration has increased since automatic and electronic registrations were implemented. Expanding the right to vote can also be seen in 11 states where they have bills that would extend the voting rights to people with past criminal convictions.
Just as Deluzio is in favor of extending the right to vote, he is also in favor of securing election results — another problem caused by the growing cybersecurity threats to undermine confidence in the system. This is a pressing issue, especially with 40 states having voting machines that are at least ten years old. Russia is the most highlighted threat, but other nations and groups such as North Korea, Al Qaeda, and ISIS could present potential threats. The 2017 Secure Elections Act is an example of one measure put in place to solve the problem, but much more needs to be done.
Deluzio’s lecture sheds light on an important issue that is crucial to the way the United States elects its leaders. There may be concerns about the current system of government, but by understanding the issues in place, perhaps measures can be taken to find solutions.