Criminalizing the Vote
This past Monday [4/10/17], a federal judge ruled — for the second time — that Texas’ voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act (US News)
“Texas passed the most restrictive voter ID law in the country — a law legislators knew would hurt black and Hispanic voters — without any evidence justifying it, and they broke all sorts of legislative rules and norms to do it,” said attorney Myrna Perez, representing the Texas NAACP.
Texas legislators are not alone. Since 2010, Republicans have passed an onslaught of voter restrictions (Brenen Center for Justice) across the country, fueled by spurious claims of voter fraud — claims that are themselves fraudulent, as numerous studies have concluded. (Brennan Center for Justice) In Texas, for example, the pretext for the state’s voter ID law was just 38 illegal voting cases — over the course of the last 12 years.
What’s more, many of those cases stem not from sinister conspiracies, but from confusion. That’s what happened to Rosa Ortega, (Washington Post) who has a green card and has lived — and voted — in Dallas for over two decades. She was stunned when detectives confronted her in 2015 about checking the wrong box on a ballot, and even more stunned in February of this year when a jury sentenced her to eight years in prison for her mistake.
“Eight years for signing a piece of paper wrong,” says Ortega. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t have a criminal record. Why am I the example?”
Ortega’s defense attorney, Clark Birdsall, says he thinks he knows the answer. With his claims that as many as 5 million illegal ballots cost him the popular vote, his calls for mass deportation, and his warning that his own election was rigged, (The Hill: Pew study) President Trump has fostered “a sense of ill-will” toward minorities — an ill-will that helped “warp the perspective of the jurors,” Birdsall told The Washington Post.
Birdsall’s assessment is borne out by the case of another woman facing felony voting charges (Buzzfeed) in Georgia. Unlike Ortega, Olivia Pearson was not accused of voting illegally. Instead, she was charged with illegally helping another voter, Diewanna Robinson, who says she was overwhelmed as a first-time voter by the unfamiliar voting machine.
Without Pearson, Robinson testified, she would not have been able to cast her ballot. There have been no allegations that Pearson influenced Robinson’s vote, and nothing improper has been found in Pearson’s own voting record.
But the jury almost convicted Pearson of felony voting charges anyway, blocked by just one juror, a young black woman who refused to agree that Pearson was guilty of a crime. Pearson’s case, eventually declared a mistrial, was an attempt by prosecutors “to take us backward,” said Pearson’s attorney, Nefertara Clark.
The same push is happening in states around the country. All kinds of discriminatory measures have metastasized in the decades-long attack (The New Yorker) on voting rights that was given new life by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2012. Outside of state legislatures, extremists (Southern Poverty Law Center) are moving to sue poor counties for out-of-date voter rolls, while inside them, lawmakers are decreasing polling places and hours, (Alabama Media Group) purging voter rolls, (Charlotte Observer) and gerrymandering districts. (The Root)
This week’s federal ruling against Texas’ voter ID law is encouraging. But in a country becoming steadily less white, it is not enough to bat down just one method that one state employs to keep voters of color away from the ballot box.
“Illegal voting” is a red herring. Protecting the right to vote requires a constant and unrelentingly commitment.
As always, thank you for reading.
P.S. Here are some other pieces from this week that we think are valuable:
It’s white America’s job to fight white supremacism by Sarah Ruiz-Grossman for Huffington Post
The coded language of the alt-right is helping to power its rise by Steven Petrow for The Washington Post
When conservatives oppose “religious freedom” by Peter Beinart for The Atlantic
Violent misogyny strikes every day, just read the news by Chloe Angyal for Huffington Post
Read our latest newsletter. (Southern Poverty Law Center)