Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Myth of Voter Suppression and the Enforcement Record of the Obama Administration

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Myth of Voter Suppression and the Enforcement Record of the Obama Administration

Article excerpt

I.INTRODUCTION

The progressive Left's leadership, including former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Attorney General Eric Holder,1 created a false hue and cry about a supposed loss of voting rights in recent years. They claim that state legislatures', and particularly Republicans', including President Donald Trump, support for reforms intended to improve the election process's integrity, such as voter identification requirements and the maintenance procedures of statewide voter registration lists, amounts to widespread, systemic "voter suppression" of minority voters.2

In fact, there is no "voter suppression" epidemic, as demonstrated by, among other things, the enforcement record of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (the "Civil Rights Division"). The Civil Rights Division is responsible for enforcing all federal voting rights laws that prohibit discrimination, intimidation, and other efforts intended to prevent individuals from voting, as well as federal requirements imposed on the states for offering voter registration opportunities and maintaining those records' accuracy.3

These new state regulations and laws addressing the security of our elections, such as requiring voter identification or participation in programs that compare state voter registration lists, cannot be validly termed as "voter suppression" because they comply with existing federal voting laws, particularly given the evidence that such reforms have not hurt turnout or prevented eligible individuals from being able to vote.4 Moreover, the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") has seen a steady decrease in the number of enforcement cases due to decreasing violations of federal law.5

"Voter suppression" isn't even a legitimate, defined legal term under the statutes that protect voters, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ("VRA") and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("NVRA").6 "Voter suppression" is a faux term artificially created to unfairly condemn any election reform with which critics disagree, including perfectly legal reforms. The term is a linguistic trick designed to lump reasonable, legal, and common-sense actions by states meant to safeguard the integrity of the election process with illegal activities like poll taxes and literacy tests, thereby tainting legal actions taken by states to protect voters and elections.

The critics of these reform efforts allege that maintaining accurate voter registrations rolls to ensure that only eligible individuals cast ballots, prosecuting actual cases of election fraud, and implementing basic security reforms such as voter identification requirements that the American people overwhelmingly support is somehow "voter suppression."7 Nothing could be further from the truth.

This Essay will explain, in Part II, the need for election reform that addresses the vulnerabilities in our voter registration and election system and increases the security and integrity of the election process. Part III will demonstrate that these reforms do not constitute "voter suppression" and that there have been no widespread, systemic efforts to implement discriminatory legislation, including since the Supreme Court's 2013 decision that lifted the Section 5 preclearance requirements from certain jurisdictions. Part IV will show that the DOJ's recent enforcement record of applicable federal voting rights laws demonstrates that there is no ongoing voter suppression campaign. Part V will explain why a new Section 5 is not needed to protect voting rights across the country. Part VI concludes.

II.THE NEED FOR REFORM TO PREVENT ELECTION FRAUD

The United States has a long history of election fraud, and preventing it remains a legitimate state interest, contrary to those who claim that it doesn't exist. As the U.S. Supreme Court observed when it upheld Indiana's voter ID law, states have "a valid interest in participating in a nationwide effort to improve and modernize election procedures that have been criticized as antiquated and inefficient. …

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