In the 28 months since the Supreme Court decided a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, several states have confirmed critics’ warnings that the decision would prompt new efforts to curb voting, especially by minorities the law sought to protect. In Texas, officials put a strict voter ID law into effect the very day the court ruled. It remains under legal challenge after an appeals court ruling it discriminates against minorities. In North Carolina, a new law reduced early voting and eliminated a program encouraging 18-year-olds to register. But a ham-handed move by Alabama officials recently made the case better than can all the lawyers in the world.
Citing budgetary reasons, they closed 31 motor vehicles offices, the main place to obtain the drivers’ licenses used as voter IDs, including those in every county where blacks comprise more than 75 percent of registered voters. The action sparked such a backlash Gov. Robert Bentley backtracked — though minimally — by reopening the offices one day a month.
Texas, North Carolina and Alabama are not alone. Since 2011, 21 states have tightened voting restrictions, all but one with Republican governors or legislators. They include nine of the 11 Southern states, where increased minority voting in 2008 and 2012 either helped Barack Obama win the presidency or increased Democratic chances in states that had been voting Republican.
Other states have taken different steps to change voting procedures. Oregon and California, which vote mainly Democratic, made it easier for unregistered voters to vote by adopting laws that automatically register citizens when they get or renew their driver’s licenses or state identification cards.