Senate Judiciary Committee Examines Voting Rights Act’s Importance

Categories: News, Voting Rights

At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights and the impact of unrestricted money in elections, civil rights advocates called for strong enforcement of the nation’s voting rights laws in response to a wave of new state laws that are threatening to undermine democracy and make it harder for millions of Americans to participate fairly in elections.

The hearing was chaired by Senators Dick Durbin, D. Ill., and Patrick Leahy, D. Vt.

Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters, delivered concise and compelling testimony condemning the barriers and burdens potentially placed on low-income voters, minorities, seniors, people with disabilities, students, and other Americans. She noted that nine states – AL, KS, MS, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX and WI – have recently passed restrictive laws that require voters to present a photo ID and that five states – FL, GA, OH, TN and WV – have acted to end or curtail early voting.

“This is one of the greatest self-inflicted threats to our democracy – our way of governing – in our lifetimes,” McNamara said in her prepared testimony. “These new laws threaten to silence the voices of those least heard and rarely listened to in this country – the elderly, the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, the young and the differently abled, and even our veterans.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also emphasized the impact of these laws on communities that have faced historical discrimination. In submitted testimony, Henderson noted that 25 percent of African Americans did not have the specific type of ID that the new laws would require in order to vote, compared to 8 percent of Whites. Although we no longer encounter literacy tests, poll taxes or property requirements at the polls, “today’s efforts at disenfranchisement, while more subtle, are no less pernicious,” Henderson said.

Supporters of voter ID laws say they are designed to protect against alleged widespread voter fraud. But as McNamara told members of the committee, “Not one state has produced any evidence of anyone impersonating someone else at the poll.”

Both McNamara and Henderson provided details on the efforts by civil rights advocates to push back against these discriminatory voting laws and urged continued action by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

“Challenges to voter ID laws as well as laws restricting early voting and third-party registration in Ohio, Texas, Florida and Wisconsin have resulted in courts preventing states from implementing changes in the voting rules for the upcoming election,” said Henderson. And where these restrictive laws are allowed to go forward, Henderson called on DOJ to “continue to enforce the VRA and other federal voting laws to ensure all eligible voters have the ability to exercise their constitutional right to participate in the democratic process.”