Vote suppression laws: Another angle of attack | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vote suppression laws: Another angle of attack

Posted By on Sat, Nov 16, 2013 at 6:55 AM

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A law professor writes in an op-ed in the New York Times today about a potentially stronger approach to challenge the proliferation of laws, including voter ID,  being passed by Republican legislatures to suppress Democratic-leaning voters. The laws have a disparate impact on black people, which is the point.

But the Supreme Court has indicated in a ruling that cleared the way for vote suppression laws and also in many other areas, that the conservative majority doesn't have much sympathy with legal arguments based on racial discrimination. We are post-racial in America today. Just ask Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy.

But Richard Hasen writes that the laws are also  written with partisan intent and this notion, combined with the general restrictions they bring to the right to vote, are potentially winning legal arguments. He notes Texas' bald justification of its vote suppression laws:

Says Texas: “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.”

Leaving aside that whopper — laws that dilute black and Hispanic voting power have more than an “incidental” impact — the statement, part of a court filing in August, was pretty brazen. Minority voters, in Texas and elsewhere, tend to support Democrats. So Republican officials, especially but not only in the South, want to reduce early voting; impose voter-identification requirements; restrict voter registration; and, critically, draw districts either to crowd as many minority voters into as few districts as possible, or dilute concentrations of minority voters by dispersing them into as many white-controlled districts as possible.

Hasen cites examples in other states. He says that it should be easy, not hard, for all eligible people to register and to vote. The Republican states say they've done so to prevent fraud. He comments

Federal judges should see through these cynical pretexts. They should hold that when a state passes a law that burdens voters, it must demonstrate, with credible evidence, that the burdens are justified by a good reason and that the laws are tailored to their intended purpose. When North Carolina says it needs a strict voter-ID law to prevent fraud, courts should be skeptical, both because such laws haven’t been found to stop much impersonation fraud (there isn’t a lot) and because the same law eased absentee voting, which increases the risk of fraud.

Arkansas is front-and-center in discouraging voting and also discouraging participation in the initiative and referendum process. A lawsuit is currently underway — sponsored by the Arkansas Public Law Center and the ACLU — to challenge the limits placed on petitioners. Arkansas has a strong Constitution that should prohibit  limitations meant to discourage grassroots efforts. The Public Law Center and ACLU also are at work on a lawsuit challenging the new voter restrictions. The Constitution couldn't be clearer that the legislature is barred from placing additional restrictions on the franchise. If Republicans are to argue these restrictions are a vital and permissible extension of the state's regulatory power, it must prove that it is necessary. There is no such proof.

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