After the Civil War, the U.S. passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to ensure rights to former slaves. The 15th Amendment gave them the right to vote, stating, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
In response, white leaders in the South passed Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the black vote. There were literacy tests to pass in order to vote. There was a tax to pay in order to vote. There were also groups such as the Ku Klux Klan that terrorized black people. These methods all kept African Americans away from the ballot box.
This went on for almost 100 years. In 1965, due to the Civil Rights Movement, Congress and then-President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act. This prohibited racial discrimination in voting, outlawed literacy tests and further enforced the 15th Amendment. In 1966, the Supreme Court case Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections found that poll taxes were unconstitutional.
Great strides were made to protect African Americans’ right to vote in the 60s, but they are being rolled back today. Part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 said that states with a history of voter suppression needed the federal government to approve changes to their voting rules. The 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder got rid of this provision, essentially gutting the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts argued that conditions had changed and these provisions were no longer necessary. Boy, was he wrong.
A whopping 24 states have created new voting restrictions. One of the most pressing examples is the “exact match” law in Georgia. This requires that citizens’ names on their government-issued IDs must precisely match their names as listed on the voter rolls. Georgia’s secretary of state is a Republican named Brian Kemp. As secretary of state, it is his job to oversee the state’s elections. The problem is that he is currently running for governor. Kemp has recently put over 53,000 voter registrations on hold, 70 percent of them from black voters. Kemp is using his power to rig the election in his favor.
Exact match laws are not the only example of voter suppression currently happening in the United States. There are also “use it or lose it” laws like the one in Ohio, which states that if an individual does not vote in two consecutive elections, they will be struck from the registration rolls. There are also voter ID laws that require some form of official identification before individuals vote.
Republicans try to justify these laws by saying they are fighting voter fraud. Even President Trump claimed there were millions of cases of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. The truth is that voter fraud is insanely rare. The Brennan Center for Justice found that instances of voter fraud happen at rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. An individual in the U.S. is more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud. Voter fraud does not influence elections, but these laws to combat voter fraud do.
The right to vote is the most sacred and fundamental right a democracy can have. Without the right to vote, there is no true democracy. Exact match laws, voter ID laws and use-it-or-lose-it laws all unfairly restrict black voters’ rights. We need to be promoting the right to vote, not restricting it.