The Voting Rights Act forbids state laws that place a heavier burden on minority voters than on other members of the electorate. Additionally, Section 5 of the law requires many parts of the country to “preclear” new voting rules with DOJ or a federal court in order to ensure that they do not violate the Voting Rights Act’s protections for minority voters. The Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to Section 5.
Last week, the state of Texas submitted an amicus brief calling up the justices to strike down this landmark voting rights law. Ironically, however, the brief does far more to explain why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still necessary. Texas’ primary argument is that the nation’s most important voting rights law must be gutted because it prevents the state from enacting a law that suppresses the minority vote:
The preclearance proceedings involving Texas’s voter-identification law illustrate the enormous burdens of the section 5 regime. Section 5 has empowered the Department of Justice to thwart the implementation of a constitutional voter-identification measure with abusive and heavy-handed tactics.
DOJ’s actions during the preclearance process indicate that the Department has not heeded this Court’s decision in Northwest Austin and leave no doubt that DOJ will continue to enforce section 5 in a manner that aggravates rather than mitigates the “federalism costs” imposed by the preclearance regime. The only way for this Court to alleviate these unwarranted and burdensome federalism costs is to declare the reauthorization of section 5 unconstitutional.
Voter ID laws serve no valid purpose. Although their supporters claim they are needed to combat in person voter fraud, the reality is that such fraud is virtually non-existent. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit fraud at the polls — one study determined that just 0.00023 percent of votes are the product of in-person fraud. By contrast, voter ID laws do have a major impact on minority voters in particular. Even conservative estimates suggest that voter ID prevents 2 to 3 percent of registered voters from casting a ballot, and racial minorities are disproportionately more likely to be included among the disenfranchised.
In other words, voter ID is exactly the sort of thing the Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent.