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New report says voter suppression threatens 2016 elections

By Barrington M. Salmon
On June 30, 2016

( – Since the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, states that were once required to get permission from the Justice Department to enact voting laws have been free to implement limits to voting that activists say could have a negative impact on the 2016 presidential elections.

The high court ruling against the federal government in the Holder v Shelby case in 2013, was followed closely by several primarily southern states, enacting a series of draconian laws that have made it increasingly more difficult for African Americans, Latinos, students and the elderly to cast their ballots. The Republican legislators supporting these bills claim that the measures are an effort to block voter fraud. Their critics contend that the laws are a way to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.

But, a national coalition of voters, advocacy groups and voting rights activists as well as in the Department of Justice, have been fighting back in the courts, statehouses and city council chambers. These advocates have now released a new report, showing the adverse impact of the Shelby case.

“This is really an important report. It is an effort to identify problems that have already arisen,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

“We’re witnessing a virtual renaissance of voter restrictions. If they persist, they could have a very serious effect on the upcoming elections. It is an insidious and sophisticated way to shave off a few points in key races. It is a particular problem to minorities … It is a concern of national importance, one that Congress should pay particular attention to.”

The report, "Warning Signs: The Potential Impact of Shelby County v. Holder on the 2016 General Election," was compiled with the collaboration of national civil rights organizations, including the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the ACLU, the Advancement Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the NALEO Educational Fund.

It finds that, since Shelby, the states of North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia – once under the Section 5 preclearance mandate – have engaged in deceptive and sophisticated practices to disenfranchise voters that will have an impact on the 2016 election. These states are locations of competitive 2016 contests that will have 84 Electoral College votes, two Senate seats, and one governor’s seat up for grabs.

“As we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, we’re seeing the perfect storm of a diversifying electorate and a set of states and localities responding by implementing a broad array of voter discrimination tactics,” said Scott Simpson, the report’s co-author and director of Media and Campaigns for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.  “In 2016, it is entirely possible that the presidency, control of the Senate, and a number of governorships could be determined by the voter discrimination made possible by Shelby.”

Simpson added, “Changes are happening in the dark of night. There’s no public notice, no transparency …This report looks at the intersection of states in competitive races. In those five states they’re using every tactic in the books. Those engaged in this tend to be Republicans. A lot of it is happening out of fear. Generally, it is happening with city councils, local elections, school boards. They are afraid that Blacks will gain control and continue to exert influence in these five states. For everything we’ve found, this is just a fraction of what’s actually happening.”

Marion Warren, Registrar of Voters for the City of Sparta in Hancock County, Ga., said since 2015, voter rolls were purged, removing registered voters prior to two mayoral elections that removed registered voters.

Voting officials mailed out ballots late and have “refused to make registration voter-friendly,” said Warren. “They have moved polling stations into police departments, closed six of 10 polling stations, and some people have to travel 35 miles to get to the polls. There has been an outcry from the public and I got the Department of Justice to look into that particular situation … It seems it’s harder for a minority to vote now in the state of Georgia than it was in 1965.”

In the battleground state of Arizona, tens of thousands of voters are believed to be disenfranchised after elections officials closed polling stations and scrubbed voter rolls.

Monica Cooper, and Juliana Huerena, are two Arizona voters who say they were disenfranchised during the 2016 primaries. They are plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit against Arizona and Maricopa County.  

“On Election Day, I depended on Dial-a-Ride [a paratransit service] to get to and from the polling place, and was not able to vote because the lines were so long it took over two hours to get inside the polling place,” said Cooper. “I am very angry that I was not able to cast my ballot and that I was left out on Election Day.”

“A lot of the problem is that some members of Congress are refusing to see discrimination happening,” said Simpson. “There are two bills with the House Judiciary Committee that have not moved. Republican leaders have shown no interest or inclination to move these bills. They’re burying their heads in the sand and doing everything they can to ignore what’s happening.

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