The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
With Election Day only two weeks away, there’s no better topic to discuss than voting rights. The civil rights community is calling today #RestoreVotingRights Day in an effort to engage social media in this important conversation. This election will be the least protected election in almost 50 years because of Congress’s failure to act in the wake of the Shelby County Supreme Court decision. Free and fair elections, secured by the Voting Rights Act, are the cornerstone of American democracy, and this issue should be seen in that way. Voting rights is a Jewish issue, a civil rights issue, a Democratic issue, a Republican issue, and an issue for everyone who believes in our democracy.
Loopholes in protection under the VRA is becoming an all-too-frequent problem. Early Saturday morning, the Supreme Court allowed Texas to implement a photo ID law for this election, despite a lower court ruling explaining that the law not only has a disparate impact on minorities, but also is intentionally discriminatory. The law could prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas citizens from voting. Years ago, the law had been stopped by the Justice Department through Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but was proposed again as soon as that protection was removed. Not only has the law been challenged by individuals and civil rights groups, but the Obama administration has opposed the law. Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement Saturday criticizing the verdict and citing it as “a major step backward to let stand a law that a federal court, after a lengthy trial, has determined was designed to discriminate.”
On October 9, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down the law in a 147 page opinion. Her opinion explained that the law had been adopted with “an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” creating an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote and essentially amounting to a poll tax. Judge Ramos then issued an injunction blocking the law for the current election, but Greg Abbott, the state attorney general and Republican candidate for governor argued that Judge Ramos had acted too closely to the election arguing that it would be confusing to voters. In her dissent of the decision this weekend, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, wrote that “the state’s efforts to familiarize the public and poll workers regarding the new identification requirements [were] woefully lacking and grossly underfunded,” and thus any voter confusion that existed was attributable to the state itself.
While Texas’ law is particularly problematic, we know that it is only one of many discriminatory laws in place for the coming election. Voting rights has been a challenging topic lately, and there have been many victories and losses along the way. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that we can get involved and fight discrimination at the polls: