Politics

3 Ways the Election Will Be Worse Without the Voting Rights Act

October 28th 2016

By:
Willie Burnley Jr.

The reach of historical consequence is long, especially when it comes to race. Voters in the current election will see for the first time in more than 50 years what some of those consequences are.

That is because in 2013 — in the same summer Trayvon Martin’s killer was declared not guilty — the Supreme Court came to a 5-4 decision in the Shelby County v. Holder case to invalidate the core of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and made it easier for states that have historically discriminated against people of color to change voting laws.

Bills to restore the Voting Rights Act were introduced in the House by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., in 2014 and 2015, but the bills died in committee. (ATTN: has reached out to the congressman as well as a representative of the subcommittee his bills failed to exit and will update the story if we receive a response.)

The absence of a full Voting Rights Act will have an immediate effect on the first presidential election since the decision came down.

Here are three ways it already has.

1. Nine states no longer need federal approval to change voting laws

The 15th Amendment guaranteed that the right to vote would not be denied due to "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." But states across the country continued in the 95 years since that amendment to make it as difficult as possible for African-Americans to reach the ballot box.

The Voting Rights Act included sections that targeted particular states and counties that historically discriminated against people of color and required that they submit any changes to voting laws to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval before they went into effect.

The 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted these sections, and several states tried to pass laws affecting the voting rights of people of color and Millennials. Several lawsuits resulted for the Department of Justice to field.

In one case, Texas decided mere hours after the Shelby County v. Holder decision to put forward a bill that had previously been struck down for intentional discrimination. It took three years for that voter ID law to be rejected, again, by a federal court.

In total, 14 states have passed new voter restrictions since the last election.

The end result of these long-fought battles for voters is confusion. A recent national survey by Pew Research Center found that about one in five people in states that require photo IDs did not know they lived in states with those requirements.

2. Fewer federal election observers will watch the polls

The history of voting in this country has been, at times, bloody. When legislative tactics failed to stop voters of color from casting ballots, people have used harassment and violence to impede them.

The Department of Justice has historically sent poll watchers to states and counties with this unpleasant history to ensure that elections are fair.

During this election, however, the department will send fewer observers. They will monitor polling sites in only four states — including just one in the South — compared to 13 in 2012.

This is particularly notable in this election, which has been marred by racial violence at rallies for Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has warned his supporters that the election could be stolen if they don’t safeguard it.

3. Lines will be longer at polling stations

Everyone hates long lines. Everyone. The one thing people might hate more: longer lines.

This election season, expect longer lines in states that have decided to reduce the number of early voting locations. Such a decision might have come under review by the Department of Justice in certain states before 2013. This year, Arizona, Georgia, and the battleground state of North Carolina have all reduced such voting.

One North Carolina county that reduced early voting sites to 1 from 16 is home to the predominantly African-American city of Greensboro.

Restricting early voting is only one tool to curb voting seen recently in North Carolina. Earlier this year, a federal court struck down changes that would have, among other things, banned same-day registration:

"Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African-Americans."

Long lines at polling sites hold an uncomfortable truth; that what on the surface is an annoyance, on a deeper level is a hindrance to the exercise of the franchise for those who must work continuously to make end’s meet and do not have the luxury to spend two or three hours waiting to fill out a ballot.