Just because President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission has been disbanded doesn’t mean the state of voter suppression in America has improved. Many states fought to defend the privacy of its voters from the voter fraud commission and won, but the fight has just begun to curb voter suppression in states throughout America.
Young voters can sway elections, and the Republican-led New Hampshire Senate has passed a “poll tax” that will suppress student voting. The bill will likely pass the Republican-led House, but Republican Governor Chris Sununu doesn’t support the bill and could veto it. Regardless, the constitutionality of the bill has been called into question.
The 24th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
Now the New Hampshire law isn’t a “tax” in the exact sense of the word. Instead of forcing out-of-state students to pay a tax to access the polls, which would be unconstitutional, House Bill 372 allows the State of New Hampshire to impose fines on voters who do not have a New Hampshire driver’s license, even though it is legal to vote in the state with an out-of-state license.
The bill would impose two obligations on new voters. Within 60 days of registering to vote, a New Hampshire voter would need to register her car with the state and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license, the cost of which could amount to over $200.
Minorities have already been deciding elections in America, with black voters making the difference in Alabama. This is a major threat to Conservative incumbents, and Conservative-led, state legislatures have taken measures to suppress the minority vote in America.
Ohio’s law purging voters who have not participated in consecutive elections or failed to respond to a notice from state officials will likely be upheld by the Conservative majority of the Supreme Court.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the essence of the case is whether Ohio’s law is “disenfranchising disproportionately certain cities where large groups of minorities live, where large groups of homeless people live, and across the country they’re the group that votes the least.”
While federal law doesn’t allow states to use failure to vote as a reason for purging voters from rolls, federal law also calls on states to keep accurate voter rolls and allows for removal when a person fails to respond to a state’s request to confirm registration and then fails to vote in two federal elections. Ohio sends a notice after a voter misses a single election, and removes said voter if they don’t reply. It’s the most aggressive law of its kind in America.
With the 2020 census upcoming, the redrawing of states’ voting districts is getting a lot of attention, especially in the courts. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that its voter district map was partisan gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and must be redrawn.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court delayed a lower-court order that would have forced North Carolina Republicans to redraw its state’s congressional district map while similar cases involving Wisconsin legislative districts and one Maryland congressional district are considered by the Supreme Court.
Bills governing redistricting were introduced in 27 states in 2017. Here’s a complete list of those bills. What’s the reason for so much redistricting legislation? Well, 37 state legislatures have primary control of their own district lines, and 42 legislatures have primary control over the congressional lines in their state (including five of the states with just one congressional district). And why wouldn’t an incumbent legislator draw district lines to his or her advantage? That’s why organizations like Common Cause are having success campaigning for independent commissions to handle district drawing. All of the 27 states with pending legislation governing redistricting have bills calling for a commission separate from the legislature to handle the map-making.
For instance, in Minnesota, there are companion bills calling for independent commissions to handle redistricting. HF 246 and SB 2052 call for a commission of former judges to draw district lines, but objectors to the bills say former judges aren’t representative of Minnesota’s minority populations. In nearby Michigan, bills have been introduced mirroring California’s citizens’ commission for redistricting -- the favorite model of organizations working toward democratic, competitive elections.
So while the state of voter suppression in America is improving and bound to continue improving for voters, there will still be states where partisan gerrymandered districts result in undemocratic, noncompetitive elections in 2018 and 2020. And until every state gets redistricting out of the hands of incumbent legislators, free elections are an impossibility.
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