Voter Requirements Limit Turnout
by Oliver Boyce on Friday, February 12th, 2016
50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in front of Martin Luther King and said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men. Today what is perhaps the last of the legal barriers is tumbling.”
Yet, in 2016, voting rights and voter discrimination is still a topic at the forefront of political debates. Democrats argue that the Republican Party wants to limit the voting capabilities of certain populations with whom they have not performed well by forcing them to present photo I.D. at the booths; because minorities often live in areas where photo I.D. is unnecessary or harder to obtain, they are disadvantaged. On the other hand, Republicans argue that having to present a government issued Photo ID stops voter fraud.
The Democrats’ belief that the Republicans want minority voters to be turned away at the polls is justified. In 2012, 95% of African-American voters cast ballots for President Barack Obama. In 2008, 99% did, and in 2004, 93% voted for then-Senator John Kerry. States who do require a government issued photo I.D. only accept state issued driver’s license or another form of I.D. issued by the RMV. Although 89% of Americans possess a driver’s license, a remaining 3.2 million Americans do not, with the majority tending to be minorities. Members of lower socioeconomic classes, mainly city dwellers, often do not drive, utilizing public transportation instead. This is also the case with people, typically elders, who no longer drive and live in rural areas with RMVs few and far between. These voters as a result have no photo I.D. to present at the polls. Another consideration is that obtaining a driver’s license is no cheap process and that poor voters are therefore disadvantaged.
Republicans argue that by instituting a requirement for I.D. at the polls they are preventing “voter fraud.” The main defense by the Democrats against that argument is that the majority of cases of voter fraud happen in county or regional elections and typically have a campaigner bribing citizens to vote for their candidate, something Photo ID wouldn’t stop since the vast majority of the people being bribed have valid Photo I.D.’s. The GOP also argues that voting is not a fundamental right, that it is exclusively the right of a United States citizen, and that, if you cannot present proof that you are a citizen of the U.S,. you should not be allowed to vote. The Supreme Court currently backs this viewpoint and has ruled in the past that voting requirements is a state affair and 31 states currently require some form of identification to vote, although only 17 require Photo I.D.
Regardless of who wins the debate concerning Voting Rights, it’s very unlikely that it will affect the upcoming 2016 presidential election. The Supreme Court has made it clear in the past that it is very reluctant to change voting requirements right before a major election and if any change is to come it will almost certainly be after the current Presidential Election is over.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy however, has introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would automatically subject a state to having any new proposed voting rights requirements vetted by the Supreme Court if 15 or more voting-rights violations had occurred over the last 25 years, or if one was committed by the state government itself. The act will most likely pass and would bring the most significant change to the voting system in the 2020 election.
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