It has been more than half a century since the Voting Rights Act was passed, so it can sometimes be easy to think that voter discrimination is a thing of the past. Sadly, that simply isn’t the case.
We’ve talked a lot about voter ID laws, such as the recent case in North Carolina. A court threw that law out because it was ruled to be discriminatory towards African American voters, but a town in Georgia has actually gone a step further than voter ID laws.
The town of Sparta, Georgia sent police officers to black voters, challenging their right to vote. According to reports, the predominantly white town sent subpoenas to 180 black citizens, ordering them to appear in court or lose their right to vote. A lawsuit alleges that the town’s Board of Elections and Registration used this tactic as a way to purge black voters from the rolls and give an advantage to white candidates.
Marion Warren, who serves as a Spartan election official, registered a complaint with a voting rights organization, saying the subpoenas were discriminatory and discouraged voter participation.
‘A lot of those people that was challenged probably didn’t vote, even though they weren’t proven to be wrong. People just do not understand why a sheriff is coming to their house to bring them a subpoena, especially if they haven’t committed any crime.’
One of the more disturbing issues in this particular case is the use of police officers to serve the notices. In an area where black people are arrested at a much higher rate than whites, it makes sense that a visit from a police officer would be rather intimidating. That is a major problem in the way this particular law was implemented. Police should not be used as a tool to intimidate people, but unfortunately they often are.
Those who favor the law claim it is simply an attempt to combat corruption and voter fraud. Practices such as these used to require the approval of the Department of Justice, but that is no longer the case. The 1965 Voting Rights act required areas with a history of discrimination to get approval before changing how their elections were conducted. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down that requirement, ruling it unconstitutional.
Since that ruling, numerous states have implemented voter ID laws and other measures under the guise of combating corruption. However, many believe that such laws disproportionately affect minority voters and give the edge to Republican candidates. Voters’ rights organizations argue that the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder has made it more difficult to challenge such laws.
On the other hand, conservatives argue that such challenges should be difficult because they believe that elections should be handled by local officials and that the federal government shouldn’t get involved. The major problem with this argument is that it is very similar to arguments used to defend segregation and other racist policies of the last century.
We’ll have more on this story as it develops.