In 2013, a Texas woman was told that she now needed an ID to vote. No big deal, right? Wrong.
In order to get the necessary ID, Bates would have to pay $42 for a birth certificate. The cost was too much for her poverty-stricken family.
“We couldn’t eat the birth certificate,” she said in court, “and we couldn’t pay rent with the birth certificate.”
In Ohio, an 86-year-old World War II veteran was denied the right to vote in the 2012 election because his ID from the Department of Veterans Affairs didn’t contain his address.
In Wisconsin, an 85-year-old disabled woman had never needed an ID, because she was never able to drive. When she tried to get one to vote, the DMV quoted her a price up to $200 because there was a name discrepancy.
These stories are representative of millions (yes, millions) of people across the United States who have been denied their right to vote because of laws passed by conservative legislatures designed to suppress voter turnout.
Voter ID laws are only part of the battle. Restricting voter registration, illegally purging voter rolls, reducing or eliminating early voting, requiring birth certificates, denying college students the right to vote at school, moving polling places and making them less accessible — all are suppression tactics used by Republican state legislatures.
Republicans can’t win with a level playing field, so they change the rules of the game and rig the system to reduce voter turnout. As Senator Lindsey Graham admitted in 2012, they don’t generate “enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
A Supreme Court decision in 2013 essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It invalidated the provision that required federal oversight of laws that affected voting in states and counties with histories of voter suppression. That opened the floodgates.
Since 2011, 49 states have considered legislation that would make it harder for eligible Americans to vote. Half of those states passed new voting restrictions. By 2014, voters in 21 states faced tougher voting rules than they did in 2010.
The usual rationale given for these restrictions is to eliminate “voter fraud.” However, of the more than 1 billion ballots cast across the country in primary and general elections in between 2000 and 2004, only 31 were deemed to be cast by the wrong person. That’s less than 0.0000039%.
Millions of voters are being disenfranchised to “fix” a problem that doesn’t exist.
Technically, these restrictions apply to everyone, but we all know that Voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise black, Latino, poor, elderly, and student voters. All of whom happen to be more likely to vote for Democrats.
Right here in San Diego we’ve had problems with the Registrar of Voters not counting legally valid provisional ballots. A patchwork of policies that vary from county to county has created inconsistencies in California that allow ballots to be counted in some counties and left uncounted in others.
San Diegans are working with the legislature and Secretary of State to standardize procedures for the counting of votes in every county. In collaboration with Secretary of State Alex Padilla, three of the six voter-related bills were introduced or co-authored by Senator Ben Hueso and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales.
Fortunately, we live in California, and under Democratic leadership, we are fighting to defend voter rights and expand voter access. An entire package of voter rights legislation was proposed in the legislature this year, including:
- A bill to allow same-day voter registration.
- A bill that will automatically register people to vote when they apply for a drivers license or state-issued ID.
- A bill that will require mail-in ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
- A bill that would require a recount in state and federal races if the margin of the race is less than or equal to 0.1%.
- A bill that would begin a pilot program to automatically send all registered voters ballots in the mail, rather than only sending them on request.
- A bill that effectively requires political jurisdictions to consolidate local elections with statewide elections in order to maximize turnout.
On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the single most effective piece of civil-rights legislation ever passed by Congress, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was the culmination of decades of persistent efforts — organizing, marching, court challenges, lobbying and even dying by African-Americans and allies. They refused to stop fighting for the right to vote.
Fifty years later, the fight continues. It is now up to Congress to repair the damage to the Voting Rights Act done by the Supreme Court. But it’s up to each of us to be vigilant and continue to protect every eligible voter’s right to cast a ballot and have it counted.
Without voting there is no democracy. Without democracy there is no America. It’s really that simple.
Chair, San Diego County Democratic Party