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In a Win for Democracy, Courts Strike Down Voter Laws Across US

Several states were recently blocked from enacting or keeping rules that make it harder for citizens to vote.

Federal appeals courts ruled against North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas, North Dakota, and Kansas, deeming laws that they enacted to be discriminatory.

North Carolina, for example, was found to have “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision” to depress voter turnout. The state’s new photo id requirement was tossed out.

In Georgia, a transparent effort to purge African Americans from voting rolls was halted and people who had been disenfranchised had their rights restored.

South Dakota is currently entangled in a lawsuit alleging that Native Americans are being denied equal access to voting booths.  

Ever since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a law that attempted to end the disenfranchisement of black voters — was gutted in 2013, there has been a barrage of rules and regulations put in place to restrict voting access in the US.

Voting rights groups have struggled to keep up.  

Previously, 14 states with a history of blatant discrimination — the Jim Crow states — had to get preclearance from the justice department before they could change voting laws. Not any more. And the end of preclearance has unleashed a spree of legislative activity.

Twenty-two states have put in place voting restrictions since 2010 and 16 states have added new restrictions this year for the 2016 presidential election.

Restrictions include: specific photo IDs needed for voting; new, hard-to-obtain requirements for photo IDs; shortening of early registration periods; ending extended voting periods; censoring get-out-the-vote efforts; and allowing municipalities to more easily purge voter rolls.

These are accompanied by other restrictive tactics like closing DMVs and other government buildings that issue photo ids and reducing the number of places where a person can vote. So just at the time when new IDs are required, obtaining a new id becomes harder.

Oftentimes, closures are concentrated in minority communities, forcing people — who may not have cars and extra money and who may be busy during the day when places are open — to travel long distances to pay for qualifications and to vote.

For example, a popular program called “Souls to Polls,” which people are transported from church to voting stations, has been hampered by the decline of early voting in some states.

Generally, these policies have been framed as a way to end voter fraud. But time and time again, the problem of voter fraud has been shown to be a ghost — it doesn’t happen on a scale that matters.

Voting rights groups have been filing lawsuits at rapid pace, but it’s a whack-a-mole effort in the face of so many restrictions.

Federal appeals courts hearing the lawsuits have peeled back the voter fraud pretense to see what lies behind: a clear attempt to disenfranchise minorities.

Nearly all the new restrictions disproportionately affect minorities.

The US already has dismal voter turnout. Just 53.6% of eligible voters cast a vote in the 2012 presidential election. In the 2014 midterm elections, voter turnout was 36.3%, the lowest level since World War II. Only 9 percent of US voters chose either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the presidential primaries — most people just didn’t participate.

So far this year, a hotline that fields voting concerns has received 22,000 complaints, 10 times more than in 2012.

With so few Americans actually making it to the polls, the current focus on making it harder to vote seems backwards.

In a robust democracy, voter turnout should be high. Everyone’s voice should be heard. Laws and resources should be directed to make voting as easy as possible.

Check out this list of 15 common sense ways to increase voter turnout among all demographics.