First presidential election under a weakened Voting Rights Act

Some are extremely concerned about black voter turnout because of restrictive voter ID laws

By Frederick H. Lowe

GARY, IND. — Some blacks are wringing their hands over November’s upcoming presidential election because it will be the first one in 50 years when a key provision of The Voting Rights Act will not be in effect due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Black voters
Black voters

Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras J. Baraka made that point last week during a speech at the opening day of the National Black Political Convention which was held here June 9th and 10th.

Mayor Baraka said restrictive photo ID voter laws would reduce

Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras Baraka gestures while making at point at the National Black Political Convention. Photo by Frederick H. Lowe
Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras Baraka gestures while making at point at the National Black Political Convention. Photo by Frederick H. Lowe

black- voter turnout after blacks voted in higher numbers than whites in the 2012 presidential election, returning President Barack Obama to the White House for a second term.

The U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey reported in 2013 that the black voting rate in the 2012 presidential election was 66.2 percent compared to the white voting rate of 64.1 percent.

Baraka’s concern is supported by a University of California at San Diego study, titled “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes.” The study reported that strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of blacks and skew democracy in favor of whites.

In 2014, the General Accounting Office estimated that 20 percent of blacks did not have government-issued ID.

Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau in the foreground. Photo by Frederick H. Lowe
Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau.
Photo by Frederick H. Lowe

But Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, who also spoke at the convention, said he won’t be able to determine what effect the restrictive voter identification laws will have until on black voter turnout until after the election.

In some states where a voter does have required government-issued ID, he or she may be given a provisional ballot.

Voter ID laws

Ballotpedia, an online encyclopedia of American politics and elections, reported that as of June 2016, 33 states enforced voter identification requirements and 19 states require voters to present photo identification, while 14 accepted other forms of identification. Prior to 2006, no state required individuals to show ID in order to vote. The convention was held in Indiana, which has one of the nation’s most-restrictive voter ID laws.

U.S. Supreme Court invalidates Section 4(b)

Some states began enacting stringent Voter ID laws, following the June 25, 2013, U.S. Supreme Court ruling titled Shelby v. Holder.

The court ruled that Section 4 (b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which established a formula to determine which states and jurisdictions must comply with preclearance, is antiquated, thus unconstitutional, and can no longer can be used, Shelton wrote in a June 8th NAACP Action Alert.

This ruling made moot Section 5 of VRA. This section requires certain states or jurisdictions, which have an established history of laws that result in the disenfranchisement of a group or racial or ethnic minority, to obtain advance approval or preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department or U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia before states or jurisdictions can make any changes to voting rights or practices. Examples of changes include the date, time, place or manner in which an election is held.

“Thus, although Section 5 survives, it is currently not being used until Congress enacts a new formula to determine who should be covered by it,” Shelton said.

The NAACP and other groups are pushing passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act in the U.S. Senate (S.1659) and companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2867) that would modernize  the preclearance formula  to cover states with an historical pattern of discrimination and ensure that last-minute voting changes won’t adversely affect voters.



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