1469 Days

By Rev. Renee Roederer

That’s how many days have passed since the Supreme Court issued a decision in Shelby County vs. Holder, a case that effectively gutted the protections from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Earlier this week I heard the Rev. William Barber speak about this over a live-stream from a gathering in Raleigh, North Carolina. I highly commend his speech to you (it starts at the 58 minute mark). Here is some information that is important for all of us to know. 

On June 25, 2013, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional. Section 4 lays out the formulas for how the Department of Justice enforces Section 5 of the law. 

Section 5 requires certain counties from certain states to gain approval from the federal government before making any changes to electoral law. Section 4 spelled out which states and counties – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia in their entirety; and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. These counties and states have a history with voter discrimination, including those that had previously passed Jim Crow laws that barred or severely limited African Americans from voting. 

Much is at stake in this Supreme Court decision, and we’re still seeing new implications.

But let’s start with this particular recognition spelled out by Rev. Barber:

  • Since the Shelby County vs. Holder decision, 22 states have passed laws that have increased voter suppression. Taken together, these states make up 250 Electoral College votes. This means if a Presidential candidate can win all of these states via suppression, that candidate only needs to win 20 more Electoral Votes to have a straight shot to the White House.
  • When it comes to new voter suppression laws, these laws require photo IDs and the proof of citizenship, etc. Often, these laws are passed under the rhetoric of preventing voter fraud. 
  • While these requirements may seem reasonable as generalities, in practice, they often involve details that result in the suppression voting rights. First of all, it can be a burden of expense for some of the poorest residents to obtain these forms of authentication. People also need to take off work to get them, resulting in lost income.
  • But also, there the details of the particulars. What happens, for instance, if you are a naturalized immigrant that was born in a country that uses surnames differently than the United States, and your names don’t match precisely to the letter on all your forms of identification? You could certainly lose your opportunity to vote. And since these new laws are passed under suspicion of voter fraud, you may face questions about your valid  citizenship.
  • What happens if you are an African American citizen who was born in a segregated hospital that took no care to issue adequate birth certificates? You could permanently lose your right to vote because you have no capability of obtaining a government-issued ID.

For the last 1469 days, these laws have been quite effective in suppressing votes.

As Rev. Barber says, Russia may have influenced the 2016 Election, but it was not the first hack. The first hack was voter suppression. 

And if we want to promote and protect democracy, we will have to get involved in the efforts to protect and expand voting rights. Are you in?

Renee Roederer is the founding organizer of Michigan Nones and Dones, a community for people who are “spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious.” This community in Southeast Michigan includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (the Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (the Dones), and people who remain connected to particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression.

Please visit Smuggling Grace to subscribe to Renee Roederer’s blog. You can also follow her on Twitter: @renee_roederer.

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