On August 6th, 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in voting, and took on sinister tactics like literacy tests and poll taxes designed to keep people of color out of the ballot box. It revolutionized the face of the American electorate.
Today, a number of under-the-radar voter suppression tactics are undermining the core of what the Voting Rights Act set out to do. In fact, the Brennan Center for Justice found that since 2010, laws limiting voting options have passed in 22 states.
PowerPAC+ board member Subodh Chandra, a powerhouse civil rights lawyer and leader in the ongoing fight against voter suppression in Ohio, spoke about these discriminatory practices at our Race Will Win the Race conference. Here, we break down Subodh’s eye-opening remarks on voter suppression in Ohio and across the nation.
1. Voter ID Laws
Subodh himself admits that he couldn’t always see the problem with requiring voters to show ID at the polls. That’s how we prove our identity at the airport, right? The problem lies in the types of ID that are acceptable, such as driver’s licenses, state-issued IDs, utility bills and bank statements. “These are forms of ID that poor people don’t have,” Subodh says. Requiring these forms of identification over a social security number places disproportionate burden on low-income, homeless and student voters. Strict photo ID laws, which are the most disenfranchising, are currently on the books in 12 states, and are being pursued in a number of others.
In urban areas with dense populations and long voting lines, it is common for poll workers to mistakenly send voters to the wrong precinct or voting location. In Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted fought for these misdirected voters to lose their eligibility. In Subodh’s eyes, this was a calculated move designed to make voting harder in Democratic-leaning urban areas. A federal court ruled halfway in Husted’s favor, saying that if voters were misdirected to the wrong voting precinct at the right location, their votes would still count, but if they were sent to the wrong location altogether, their votes would no longer be eligible. This may sound confusing, and that’s exactly the point. These are measures that make the voting process rockier for voters, and ultimately keep some voters from voting at all.
3. Proof of naturalization
In 2006, Ohio adopted a law allowing poll workers to ask voters whether they were native-born or naturalized citizens, and to demand voters to show proof of naturalization. This was a blatant attempt to restrict the immigrant vote in Ohio. Luckily, Subodh and his law firm challenged the law alongside a number of other voting rights advocates, and a federal court struck it down as unconstitutional “in the strongest terms,” Subodh said.
4. Cutting early voting
In 2008, organizers in Ohio implemented early voting programs to combat the lines and long wait times of past elections. Early voting was immensely popular among African American voters, with drives such as the “Souls to the Polls” church movement bringing whole communities to vote in the days leading up to the election. Weekend voting hours were also crucial for working voters who could not take time off to vote on Election Day. Over 250,000 Ohioans participated in early, in-person voting in 2008, which played a major role in Obama’s victory. Since then, there has been a nonstop back-and-forth battle over early voting in Ohio. In 2012, the Ohio GOP cut early voting from 35 to 11 days, only to be successfully sued by the Obama campaign. In 2014, Secretary of State Husted launched another effort to curtail early and weekend voting, which was again overturned by courts.
Call to action
Subodh is calling on all of us to talk to our friends from across the political spectrum about the realities of voter suppression, and to teach the next generation that every vote matters. “The courts are not going to be the only place we’re going to be able to find a solution. It’s going to take people power,” he said. Almost 50 years ago, the Voting Rights Act gave us the legal means to challenge discrimination in voting, but it is still up to us to locate the injustices in our voting systems and actively seek to correct them.
You can take action to support voting rights by signing our petition in support of the Ohio Voters’ Bill of Rights.