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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Voting: A "perpetuation of racial entitlement."

Last week the Supreme Court considered, among other issues, whether there was any "end in sight" for the Voting Rights Act provision that "intrudes on states' rights to conduct elections." Voting rights are only seasonally on the minds of the public, every four years mostly,  and just a little bit during off years and intermediate elections. While I am not a scholar of Voting Rights, I have worked to protect voters rights both in my position as an Illinois Assistant Attorney General and as a volunteer for Election Protection, a non-partisan organization comprised primarily of attorneys across the country who run both a call center and field attorneys to the counties. I work in the field.

In 2008 I volunteered to work Election Protection in Kane County, a "collar county" of Chicago, well-known for voter suppression. In fact, in 2008, Kane County was subject to an order of the DOJ based on violations of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act for Hispanic voters.  Covering 26 precincts in 2008, I saw all kinds of attempted voter intimidation by poll workers to prevent minorities from voting, primarily in the form of questioning the voter's registered address or sending the voter to a different polling place.  As part of their enforcement, the DOJ sent representatives in black suits to stand around the polls - oddly enough, this effort ended up intimidating voters almost as much as the poll workers.

Last fall, November 2012, I volunteered again to work Kane County. Now released from the DOJ order via a "Memorandum of Compliance," Kane was back to it's usual business of suppresssion. This time, poll workers were instructed to request identification from voters (not required in Illinois) and to delay voting for as long as possible by being required to call into the County Clerk to get "authorization" for a voter to vote. No one from Election Protection was informed of this new County "procedure" in advance of the election and in fact, when anyone from a polling place called the Clerk there was no answer. In one precinct a young voter was detained for well over an an hour waiting for "Clerk approval" to vote. In another instance poll workers pretended to look up names and addresses in the computer system and mysteriously could not find them depending on the race of the voter until we, the field workers, contacted a supervisor, who then found the names immediately. We found one woman outside crying because she was told she couldn't vote. After another hour, we managed to get her "registration" straightened out and she voted. She thanked us. Between 5:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. my team saved four votes and lost one, a man who could not wait around because he had to go to work (a famous suppression tactic). But we could not be in 26 precincts simultaneously so no one knows how many other voters were turned away.

A worker at one precinct who was well-aware of historic suppression tactics showed me how precinct workers looked up names and told me about how in certain precincts, where there is Section 8 housing, the workers can pretend that they "can't find" a  name.

Voter suppression is alive and well and living in a County near you during every election. And the Court should gut the Act as unnecessary?


Posted by DBorman on March 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM | Permalink


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I've lived in Memphis for the past four years. Tennessee is not subject to the stringent oversight of the VRA like so many other southern states. But, voter suppression is rampant here, as are attempts by the Republican-dominated legislature to make voting more difficult. Anyone who believes we have outgrown the Act hasn't spent much time in the South.

Posted by: Kschaffzin | Mar 6, 2013 12:57:59 PM

I was not aware that the provisions allowing challenges to voter suppression were at issue in the case.

Posted by: andy | Mar 6, 2013 1:55:17 PM

One couldn't make a better argument for overturning Section 5 of the VRA than this post.

Also a strong argument for finding out what a controversy is about before posting on it.

Posted by: Thomas | Mar 6, 2013 4:31:46 PM

in case anyone is interested, the complaint in US v. Kane County is at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_203/documents/kane_comp.php.

Posted by: JT | Mar 6, 2013 6:30:22 PM

Thank you, JT, for posting the link to the Kane County complaint. Regarding the two prior comments of Andy and Thomas, I was speaking globally about the concept of gutting the Voting Rights Act and using my experience as an illustration against the concept. Thomas, your comment is fascinating.

Posted by: DBorman | Mar 6, 2013 7:20:13 PM

D, Kane County isn't a covered jurisdiction under Section 5; indeed, no county in Illinois is covered by Section 5. The happenings in Kane County won't at all be affected by the resolution of the current case before the Court. I'm not sure what you mean by 'global', but ordinarily I'd expect that there would be some connection between the global comment and the particular case you are discussing in passing. But there's no connection there at all. Except, that is, for the one I mentioned, which is that, if anything, your experience calls for treating Illinois no differently from Alabama et al. But for some reason you oppose that!

Posted by: Thomas | Mar 7, 2013 7:29:55 PM

Thomas, what exactly is your point? There's no reason to berate D for using personal experience to illustrate that voting rights suppression is a real and ongoing problem in the USA. D's entry here in no way pretends to discuss any specific case, but uses the Supreme Court case and, I'm pretty sure, Justice Scalia's remarks, as well as the personal experience described, as a starting point to discuss whether the Voting Rights Act is still necessary. There is not even an implication that D believes that Kane County would be affected by the case.

Posted by: Gary | Mar 8, 2013 10:47:29 AM

"as a starting point to discuss whether the Voting Rights Act is still necessary"

I'm still confused by this, since no one (Justice Scalia or otherwise) is arguing that the Act is unnecessary.

Posted by: andy | Mar 8, 2013 2:30:05 PM

The Kane county example actually supports striking down Section 4. Why imnpose pre-clearance requirements using 1972 data, when, as this post shows, bad stuff is happening elsewhere?

Posted by: andy | Mar 8, 2013 2:33:38 PM


Gary, the question isn't whether "the Voting RIghts Act is still necessary." (Or D's version: "And the Court should gut the Act as unnecessary?") The questions presented, according to the Court--and, please don't take my word for this, it's all available online--is this: GRANTED LIMITED TO THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: WHETHER CONGRESS' DECISION IN 2006 TO REAUTHORIZE SECTION 5 OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT UNDER THE PRE-EXISTING COVERAGE FORMULA OF SECTION 4(b) OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT EXCEEDED ITS AUTHORITY UNDER THE FOURTEENTH AND FIFTEENTH AMENDMENTS AND THUS VIOLATED THE TENTH AMENDMENT AND ARTICLE IV OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. The question of whether the Voting Rights Act is still necessary. There's nothing about "gutting" the Act, at least not as one could possibly relate to Kane County, Illinois.

Posted by: Thomas | Mar 8, 2013 8:58:37 PM


I in turn am confused by statements like this made in face of ample evidence to the contrary. Scalia has openly questioned the consitutionality of the Act. He has only advised from a pragmatic standpoint that there are probably not votes enough in the Senate to prevent it from being retained, while also expressing concern that the continuation of an Act he considers unconstitutional is left to the legislative branch. And besides that, plenty of people in the Senate are willing to vote against it.


Posted by: Phil | Mar 9, 2013 8:56:30 AM

The statement I was responding to dropped out, it was this:

"I'm still confused by this, since no one (Justice Scalia or otherwise) is arguing that the Act is unnecessary."

Posted by: Phil | Mar 9, 2013 8:57:27 AM

I think the main comment is very important because the tone of the oral argument, as reported, at least, seemed to imply that there is no race-based voter suppression any more, and the laws that (imperfectly) seek to protect people in areas with the worst track record are somehow overly protective and self-indulgent vestiges of racism against whites. I, too, have worked in voter protection, in South Carolina. For anyone who has never seen this, the high level of obvious race and age based harassment is absolutely flabbergasting. What particularly troubles me is that the worst perpetrators openly align themselves with the republican party. That party purposefully sends a representative to spend the entire day harassing young people at each historically black college in town. These are kids exercising their right to vote for the first time in their lives, and are met with outright hostility. Even if someone hates people from the other party voting, I assume we were all raised to know that the right to vote is critical to a functioning democracy. Yet they shamelessly and openly seek to suppress it. After four years of this, I am still disgusted.

Posted by: JacquelineF | Mar 9, 2013 2:21:50 PM

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