According to Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion, between 1982 and 2006 the Department of Justice “blocked over 700 voting changes based on a determination that the changes were discriminatory.” She cites the following examples, as reported by the Feminist Majority Foundation (below). I took the liberty to conform a few things to the original.
1. In 1995 Mississippi tried to revive a dual voter system, in which voters were required to register separately for federal and state elections. The law was first enacted in 1892 to disenfranchise black voters. The Department of Justice struck down the law on the grounds that it discriminated against minority voters.
2. In 2000 the Department of Justice rejected a redistricting scheme in the city of Albany, Georgia, because it deliberately weakened the black vote.
3. When an unprecedented number of African-Americans decided to run for office in Kilmichael, Mississippi, in 2001, the all-white Board of Aldermen canceled local elections. The Department of Justice mandated that the elections occur, and three black aldermen and the town’s first black mayor were subsequently elected.
4. In response to a Supreme Court order in 2006 prohibiting Texas from redistricting in order to weaken Latino votes, the state sought to restrict early voting. The Department of Justice blocked the state action.
5. In 2003, when African-Americans won a majority of seats on the school board in Charleston, South Carolina, the county tried to introduce an at-large voting system that would prevent proportional representation and weaken the black vote. The Department of Justice ruled that the system was discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act.
6. In 1993 the Department of Justice blocked a motion by the city of Millen, Georgia, to delay an election in a predominantly black district by two years, leaving it without representation.
7. In 2004, Waller County, Texas, attempted to curtail early voting at polling places near a historically black university.
8. In 1990, Dallas County, Alabama, sought to disenfranchise voters who did not return a voter update form. The Department of Justice ruled that the action was discriminatory and unnecessary.
9. In 2011, eight states—Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin—passed voter identification laws. With one tenth of the population without identification, the law would discourage the votes of minorities, students, seniors, and people in rural areas. 24 other states introduced voter identification laws that year.
10. In 2011 Florida and Texas passed restrictions on non-profit voter registration drives. These non-profits, such as the League of Women Voters, have proved incredibly effective at helping eligible citizen register to vote, especially on college campuses and in areas with low voter turnout.
11. In 2011 Florida passed a law reducing the early voting period by nearly half and effectively limiting black, Latino and Democratic votes, as those groups constitute the majority of early voters. Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and Wisconsin also reduced their early voting periods.
12. Partly as a result of reduced early voting, lines at the polls proved unbearable for some 201,000 Florida voters who left before casting their ballots in the 2012 Presidential Election.
13. In 2012, billboards erected in predominantly black neighborhoods in Cincinnati threatened that voter fraud is a felony!
14. Last week the Supreme Court struck down Arizona’s law requiring proof of citizenship at the polls. The law would have targeted and suppressed minority, and in particular Latino, votes. 17 other states introduced similar legislation in 2011, and proof of citizenship laws passed in Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee. A study by the Black Youth Project predicted that these kinds of laws will disenfranchise approximately 700,000 young minority voters.
15. In a recent Los Angeles mayoral race, candidates confused Latino voters by releasing misinformation about the opponents’ immigration and labor policies.
16. In a 2010 gubernatorial election in Maryland, one candidate’s campaign manager authorized misleading robocalls to predominantly black counties that encouraged voters to “stay home” rather than go to the polls.
The Feminist Majority Blog explains why this is so important:
Just like racial discrimination, voter suppression isn’t all in the past. Hours after the Supreme Court released its decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the state’s voter identification law, perhaps the most stringent in the country, would go into effect immediately. Last year under the Section 5 preclearance provision a group of federal judges struck down the law, claiming that it imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” and in particular on racial minority groups. Texas lawmakers wasted no time.
It’s easy to remove ourselves from the past, to underscore how we’ve changed rather than acknowledge historical continuities. But the overwhelming evidence of suppression aimed at minority groups whose votes could affect the status quo shows, if nothing else, that the systems of racism that disenfranchised citizens in 1965 still exist—that we’ve inherited and in many ways actively perpetuated them. Underlying the majority opinion is a frustratingly elementary notion of racism: so long as we don’t physically obstruct individuals from voting, minority disenfranchisement is a vaporous claim.
In her statement of dissent Justice Ginsburg refers to contemporary acts of voter suppression as “second-generation barriers.” Her language is apt: the racial discrimination we see now may not look exactly like the “flagrant” racism of the 1960s, but it is no doubt a close relative. Our voter identification and proof of citizenship laws are not far removed from literacy tests and “grandfather clauses.” These 16 examples and more affirm that the Voting Rights Act is still relevant, and still necessary—in full.