Voting discrimination persists nationwide, but the worst offenders today are still southern states with a history of such actions, according to a new report that examined 18 years of lawsuits, challenges and settlements. The report, by the National Commission on Voting Rights, is the most comprehensive look at voter discrimination since 2006, when Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act. Congress had commissioned a similar report in the lead-up to the reauthorization. The commission was formed in the wake of Shelby v. Holder, the landmark June 2013 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The provision had required that nine states with a history of discrimination, and a handful of counties in other states, submit all voting-law changes to the federal government for preclearance. The court rejected that provision, saying that in a post-civil rights era, it was no longer necessary or constitutional to single out these states because of their history. After Shelby, the commission, a consortium of more than 12 civil rights groups, set out to gather a current record of racial voting discrimination and other election administration problems from 1995 through June 2014. It held more than 25 regional and state-based hearings nationwide.
Republican lawmakers say it’s time to do away with the federal commission that has given states election-related advice for the past years. The lawmakers say the Election Assistance Commission has outlived its usefulness. “We do not need a separate federal agency for the small number of useful functions it performs,’’ said Republican Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi, who introduced a bill last year to shut down the commission. “They can be accomplished more efficiently within another agency.” The EAC drew new attention after the Nov. 6 election.
Millions of Americans turned out to vote in Tuesday’s razor-thin presidential election, facing long lines, strict new identification requirements and, in some areas, polling stations without power. Voters in key states such as Florida and Virginia waited in long lines hours after polls closed Tuesday night to cast ballots, even as politicians and their supporters urged them not to give up despite the long delays. Candidates turned to social media to encourage voters through the long wait. “#StayInLine #StayInLine #StayInLine” Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin tweeted. The three states allow voters who were in line when polls closed to cast ballots. One Florida elections office mistakenly told voters in robocalls that the election was today.
Two blocks from the White House, in a conference room on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building, voting rights advocates are fighting on the front line of the voting wars. Welcome to the headquarters of Election Protection, a program run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and a multitude of civil rights organizations that seeks to combat the wave of restrictive voting laws that have swept state legislatures in the past few years. “I was here in 2000 when the debacle happened in Florida. That really led to civil rights groups coming together and saying we have to have a paradigm shift in the way that we view elections,” Barbara R. Arnwine, President & Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told TPM in an interview at their office, which doubles as headquarters for the Election Protection’s hotline number.