Posted by Nisreen Eadeh on October 06, 2015 in Blog

“The history of this country has always been about… expanding the ballot. It has only been in recent history that our country has become one in which forces have worked to make it harder for people to actually register to vote and indeed vote,” says Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center for Justice at AAI’s briefing on Protecting Voting Rights last week. Speaking with her was attorney Jasmyn Richardson from the Advancement Project’s Voter Protection Program who explained how the elimination of Section IV of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has caused a flood of voter suppression bills to pass across the country since the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2013.

Hill_briefing_Oct_1-2.jpgBecause Section IV of the VRA required states with a history of discrimination to seek pre-clearance from the federal government prior to changing voting laws, citizens’ voting rights were protected against systematic attempts to suppress the vote. These protections were largely eliminated by the landmark Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder. Austin-Hillery mentions that the states where most voter suppression effortsare happening are those with Republicans in “governor’s offices or they are Republican-led majorities in state legislators.” She went further to say that these bills are passing “to try and ensure that the voters who [Republicans] think are not going to elect their party members have a harder time voting.” Understanding who is endorsing voter suppression bills is a key aspect in spreading voter rights awareness so that the legislators’ re-elections can be circumvented.

Richardson is one of the attorneys working with the NAACP in the “monster voter suppression” case of NAACP v. McCrory. In this
case, the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature passed the Voter Identification Verification Act, which eliminated early voting, same-day voter registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration for those turning eighteen. According to Richardson, “this bill passed with the intent to discriminate against African Americans, Latino American, young Americans, poor people...” and other minority groups that disproportionately rely on these measures to register and vote. By finding parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, legislators are able to fall back into a cycle of discrimination that prevents minority groups from actively Hill_briefing_Oct_1-1.jpgparticipating in political institutions. The Arab American community has faced such discrimination in Michigan where “a group of about 40… Arab Americans were challenged and made to say an oath and testify to their citizenship… because of how people perceived them,” when going to register to vote said Richardson. From college students to the Latin American community, discriminating voter laws are affecting all types of minority groups.

At least 16 states have voter suppression laws that will alter the 2016 President Election. However, it’s not only major elections
that deserve voting rights attention. As Austin-Hillery says, voting “is something that we can’t just focus on as we’re gearing up for an election year… There are things that are constantly going on in respect to voting that we need to pay attention to at all times.” The best way to combat the effects of repressive bills is to educate all communities on how, where, and when to register and vote, while also emphasizing the importance of voting because without it, there’s more room for bills like these to emerge and set the nation back.

Nisreen Eadeh is an intern with the Arab American Institute