Yesterday the US Supreme Court blocked a stringent Voter ID law in Wisconsin and a Federal Judge in Texas blocked a similar law, claiming it was an "unconstitutional poll tax". Many other voting rights cases are in the news. To understand exactly why these legal battles are happening, we spoke to an expert, Erik Opsal, Communications Manager for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
Q: We’ve heard a lot about laws making it harder to vote in the past few years. What’s happening?
Since the 2010 election, politicians have pushed a wave of laws cutting back on voting rights. These restrictions range from new photo ID requirements to early voting limits to voter registration cutbacks. Overall, 22 states have new laws that could make it harder to vote, and 14 of them will have new restrictions in place for the first time in a major election this year. That means voters in nearly half the country could find it harder to cast a ballot in 2014 than they did four years ago.
Q: What's the justification for making the voting process more restrictive?
These aren’t reasonable election regulations. They are efforts by some politicians to manipulate the system for their own advantage. Instead, America should make its election system more free, fair, and accessible by modernizing registration and bringing voting into the 21st century.
Q: Is this tightening of voting restrictions happening in every state or just some?
It’s happened in about half the country. As mentioned, 22 states have new restrictions since 2010, and many of them are in the South and Midwest. Most restrictive laws passed through Republican-controlled legislatures and in states with increases in minority turnout. To find out the rules in your state, check out the Brennan Center’s comprehensive Student Voting Guide.
Q: What is being done to address this problem?
Voting advocates are fighting these laws across the country. They’ve challenged restrictive measures in court in seven states. Many of those cases are still ongoing, and some may wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Advocates have also pushed laws to improve voting by modernizing the registration system and increasing early voting opportunities. Laws to expand access passed in 16 states since 2012.
Q: What can I do about it? How can I make sure my vote is not blocked?
Register and vote! It’s important to stand up for our rights and elect leaders who will lift up our country and our communities. See the Brennan Center’s Student Voting Guide to find out the rules in your state. It provides registration deadlines, residency requirements, identification policies, absentee voting rules, and early voting information. And use OurTime’s online registration tool to sign up today.