Repealing the Voting Rights Act
The State of Arizona and its Republican Governor Jan Brewer received a lot of negative press and garnered national attention last year over its immigration legislation that allowed for racial profiling. It also drew the attention of the Obama administration and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Last week, Arizona filed a lawsuit challenging the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Tom Horne said that the requirement for the state to get prior approval from the DOJ for any changes to the state's election laws is unconstitutional.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder responded to the Arizona suit that the Voting Rights Act is vital to ensure that "every American has the right to vote and have that vote counted." Holder added, “The provisions challenged in this case, including the preclearance requirement, were reauthorized by Congress in 2006 with overwhelming and bipartisan support.” Holder said the DOJ “will continue to enforce the Voting Rights Act, including each of the provisions challenged today."
This year, the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures reports that “at the beginning of 2011, 27 states had non-photo voter ID laws. Fourteen of these 27 considered legislation this year to require photo ID at the polls. So far, four states--Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas--have enacted strict photo ID requirements.” The NCSL also points out that new laws in South Carolina and Texas cannot take effect until they receive “pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.”
The DOJ has responded that it wants more information about South Carolina's new voter ID law. Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) signed a bill in May that would require South Carolina voters to show a photo ID at the polls. The letter from the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division lays out eight questions about how it will be implemented. The state DMV estimates that 178,000 South Carolina registered voters don't have driver's licenses or state-issued photo identification cards. Additionally, the law would cost at least $795 thousand to implement in the state that has an $829 million budget deficit.
Another state with a huge budget deficit is Texas, which faces a budget shortfall of over $10 billion, fourth largest behind New Jersey, Illinois and California. The Texas bill, SB 14, would require that voters present a form of approved photo identification to cast a ballot. Throughout the debate, Democrats opposed the bill that Governor Rick Perry designated as an emergency item. It passed strictly along party lines, 101-48 Just like South Carolina’s legislation, SB 14 faces DOJ scrutiny to go into effect.Continued on the next page