1/15 - Legality of Voter ID
As the U.S. elections are now officially over, we begin to look back on how voting has become politicized. We as Americans have believed for a long time that voting is sacred and a privilege. People believe that voting is a fundamental right for our democracy. However, over recent years, there has been an attack on our voting rights. This was the case after Shelby County vs. Holder, which ruled that section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional. Here I will talk about whether voter id laws are unconstitutional? But first, I will talk about the history of voting rights.
History of Voter ID
As you may know already, the U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address racial discrimination that was preserved in the Southern States. Before 1965, very few Black Americans voted due to the poll taxes and literacy tests from the Jim Crow laws, even though Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869. As a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, you began to see African Americans become elected to power representing the south for the first time since the reconstruction era, and culminated in Barack Obama becoming the first African American president of the United States in 2008. It looked like the U.S. would advance in establishing dignity for African Americans, but it was not the case.
Shelby County v. Holder
In the first years of the Obama administration, Republican states in the south such as Texas, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina began to pass voting rights restrictions. However, in the Voting Rights Act, states who wanted to change the voting laws had to get federal approval according to Section 5 of that bill. So in 2013, Shelby County, Alabama, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for D.C. against the Department of Justice. Eric Holder was the Attorney General at the time. The county believed that sections 4 and 5 of that bill established a coverage formula, which was a way to address African Americans who suffered voting discrimination in the south, and states are subject to approval whenever they want to change their voting laws. At first, the District Court and the Court of Appeals of D.C. upheld those provisions, but the Supreme court reviewed the US DC Court decision, known as certiorari. In a close 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 is unconstitutional since the coverage formula violates the concept of federalism, allowing for states to make it harder for ethnic minorities to cast their ballots. In the aftermath of the Shelby County v. Holder, nearly 1,000 polling places had been closed in Republican states, many of them are located in predominantly ethnic minority counties. This brings us to the question, are voter id laws unconstitutional?
Are Voter Id laws unconstitutional?
After looking at the various cases relating to voting rights, voter I.D. laws are unconstitutional. The first reason is that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents states from denying anyone the right to vote. Ironically, Georgia’s (a state that has voter ID laws) own constitution states, “No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.” Another Argument for why voter id laws are unconstitutional is because of poll taxes. It is not cheap to obtain an I.D., especially for lower-income Americans. According to a Harvard Law study, Voters must pay for document fees and travel expenses, totaling around $75 to $175. Furthermore, voter I.D. laws are disproportionately discriminatory. For example, in Texas, the state allows weapons permits for voting (mostly white) but does not accept student I.D. cards (mostly minority college students). And finally, in-person fraud is rare. A study showed that since 2000, only 31 allegations of voter impersonations, during a period where Americans cast 1 billion ballots. So, overall, there is no reason why there is a need for voter id laws.
Written by Brandon Blanco, Political Chair. The views expressed in the journal are their own and not the view of The La Raza Pre Law.