The right to vote is one of the most frequently cited constitutional right in the Constitution itself; appearing five separate times total, including four individual amendments enacted to protect it. Since African-American men were granted the right to vote in 1870, and the passage of women’s suffrage in 1920, many states have used arbitrary methods to deter certain blocks of voters from the polls. Poll taxes, literacy tests and complicated voter registration were commonplace up until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that abolished these practices. A Supreme Court decision in 2013 invalidated a key component of the Voting Rights Act, giving nine Southern states the power to change their election laws without federal approval. Today, the impetuous transgressions against the right to vote from which the Voting Rights Act was enacted to protect Americans are being undermined by voter ID laws that are in currently being enforced in 32 states, 17 of those requiring photo identification. It is no coincidence that the year many voter restriction laws were put into place, 2014, voter turnout for the elections that year were the lowest in any election cycle since World War II.
The most common cited excuse for passing voter ID laws is to prevent voter fraud. But “There has been very little voter fraud in America, very little,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in a recent interview. Lewis was one of 600 protesters who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. in 1965 to protest voting discrimination. Their efforts led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They endured countless assaults, constant harassment, and were subjected to arrest several times during the peaceful, nonviolent protests they conducted to secure voting rights for African-Americans. “Out of millions and millions of votes cast over the years, and all of the studies, all of the research points out there has been almost no voter fraud,” Lewis continued. Of the 2,068 cased of alleged election fraud since 2000, researchers at Arizona State University found that only 0.5 percent of those accusations were based on voter impersonation. The majority of allegations were due to absentee ballot fraud or registration fraud, which voter ID laws would not prevent.
The state of Alabama has been criticized for passing some of the most restrictive voting laws. The state passed a law, which first went into effect in 2014, requiring government-issued photo identification to vote. The state subsequently closed 31 driver’s license offices, leaving 28 counties in Alabama without a place to get one; nearly half of those are counties in Alabama’s Black Belt, a region predominantly home to poor African-Americans. This year, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency also increased the fee to renew a driver’s license by 50 percent. Fourteen other states have passed similar voter ID laws. Studies on the effects on voter turnout found that restrictive voting laws decrease voter turnout among registered voters by 2 percent. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight estimated that the effect of voter ID laws would result in net swings ranging from 0.4 percent to 1.2 percent to Republican candidates in seven states that enacted voter ID laws from 2008 to 2012. Most people have a government-issued photo ID, and use it on a regular basis, but according to several different studies, 5 to 11 percent of Americans do not have a photo ID, and a disproportionate amount of those without photo IDs are minorities and low-income individuals.