If you are a citizen, you get to vote—at least in theory. Beyond a handful of states that restrict felons from voting in a variety of ways, citizenship, no matter how it is bestowed, is the only criterion. In the United States some are still grappling with that concept. There are groups who think they know how some others will vote and instead of working to win over those people, they take conniving, spiteful shortcuts to earning votes by short-circuiting the Constitution, and short-changing poor and minority citizens wanting their rightful voice in our government.
There have traditionally been bad actors––some states and/or counties that historically restricted factions of their population from voting. When the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, Article V required those identified as having discriminated to seek congressional permission before changing any voting regulations. Article V was renewed every five years until 2013 when the Supreme Court declared Article IV(b) unconstitutional and effectively eliminated Article V. Immediately, many states and counties, no longer charged with preclearance, began passing voting restrictions that overwhelmingly affected minority populations. Voting commissions tried to require specific photo identification to vote that many registered citizens did not possess and many could not afford to secure. Voting is supposed to be free and forcing a voter to secure ID that requires a fee would never pass preclearance. There was purging of voting rolls due to an inactive voting record and other activity that had regularly been rejected. Counties studied voting patterns and began restricting certain hours and days when many minorities chose to go to the polls. Another plot was to move local polls miles away from the voters. The poor and disabled who are without transportation are unreasonably restricted from having access to vote. All of this is discriminatory and would never have been allowed with a functioning Article V.
One such transgression comes from North Dakota. The policy of not allowing Native Americans living on reservations who do not have a unique street address was enacted and has been affirmed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The excuse is that because North Dakota is the only state that does not require voter registration, without a distinct address, voting officials can’t properly identify the voter and fear ballot-box fraud. Hogwash! Native Americans have ID and are all on federal registries. Plus, there has never been evidence of voter fraud in North Dakota or in any other state for that matter.
The Native Americans receive mail at a Post Office box, but have never had street numbers on their homes. Remember, the only requirement is that one be a citizen. These are original, native people. Their heritage is traced back to before there were any white people on the continent. Even if a ridiculous argument were made that they were not considered citizens when the country was formed in the 18th century, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution would have cleared any lingering challenges about citizenship for the 2% of original inhabitants that remain today. If the argument claimed that Native Americans were not citizens because reservations are distinct nations, not under the purview of local laws, the treaties that established those reservations also allowed for representation in Congress. Native Americans have never exercised that right because they’ve regularly voted within their local district. If they become disenfranchised, they need to exercise their treaty-given right of representation.
A second embarrassing election story comes from Georgia. In November 2018 the contestants for Governor were Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. Kemp was the sitting Secretary of State. With that job, he was in charge of conducting the election. A fair-minded candidate would have resigned or at least recused himself from election direction. To clarify with a baseball analogy, in this election, Kemp was batter, umpire, and league commissioner all at the same time. Needless to say, Kemp won the election by about 1.5%. He exercised every chance to purge voters, restrict access to the polls, and made voting for minority citizens as difficult as possible. He pulled it off but not without litigation that is still pending. When Abrams went to the polls, she found her name had been purged! If Article V of the Voting Rights Act had been active, Ms. Abrams would, with little doubt, be Georgia’s Governor and the first black woman Governor in U.S. history.
The go-to argument for voter ID advocates and vocal groups advocating voting restrictions is that they want to eliminate voter fraud at the polling places. The current administration has suggested, with no evidence, that in 2016 millions of people voted illegally and that bus-loads of cheaters were brought into select precincts to fraudulently cast ballots. To quote myself from above––“Hogwash!” The truth is that ballot-box fraud, if any can be found at all, can be counted in terms of tens and twenties–for entire states. Critics often site outdated voting rosters containing deceased or names of people who have moved. These inaccurate lists, while regrettable, have proven to not be a factor in voting fraud.
We need to protect our elections, eliminate foreign influence, and guard against all hacking into our voting systems. But, there are statistically zero credible data showing fraud stemming from in-person voting in U.S. elections. The restrictions are far more damaging than any sliver of voter fraud.
Terry Donnelly is a retired teacher. He taught in public schools in Kentucky, Michigan, and Colorado. He was an adjunct faculty member instructing teachers and teacher trainees at Michigan State University, University of Colorado, and Adams State College in Colorado.