Photos: LaTosha Brown.com\Twitter
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a series of reports this week revealing current, consistent, and well-documented racial discrimination in voting in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi as Congress considers passing HR 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
This bill would restore critical protections to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) if it passed and signed into law. The report finds racial discrimination in voting has reached crisis levels following the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision by the Supreme Court that ended federal preclearance of voting changes in jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
The SPLC and Fair Fight collaborated on collecting stories from across each state about the difficulties and obstacles voters have encountered in recent elections. Over 150 declarations, along with the reports themselves, can be found here:
Selma, Shelby County, & Beyond:
Alabama’s Unyielding Record of Racial Discrimination in Voting, the Unwavering Alabamians Who Fight Back, & the Critical Need to Restore the Voting Rights Act
Fight for Representation:
Louisiana’s Pervasive Record of Racial Discrimination in Voting, the Steadfast Louisianans Who Battle Onward, & the Urgent Need to Restore the Voting Rights Act
Freedom Summer, Shelby County, & Beyond: Mississippi’s Continued Record of Racial Discrimination in Voting, the Tireless Mississippians Who Push Forward, & the Critical Need to Restore the Voting Rights Act
These reports in full were entered into the congressional record during today’s U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary hearing “Oversight of the Voting Rights Act: Potential Legislative Reforms.”
“The present-day, continuous, and systematic effort to create barriers to voting for people of color represents a fundamental assault on democracy and mandates congressional action to secure and defend the most fundamental of our rights: the right to vote,” said Caren Short, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC. “Recent efforts to close polling places in majority-Black communities and ban Sunday voting have the effect – and often the intent – of blocking Black voters and other voters of color from voting. Without federal preclearance in place, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi have erected new barriers to voting that target voters of color, prevented them from selecting their chosen representatives, and ultimately hurt their ability to create policy to benefit their families and communities.”
Alabama officials undermined the VRA from its passage, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) objecting to over 100 Alabama voting changes under the VRA. Hours after Shelby County v. Holder, in an act found racially discriminatory by the Department of Transportation, Alabama issued strict photo ID laws while closing or reducing hours for ID issuing offices in Black communities. Alabama outlaws early voting, limits absentee voting, and bans curbside voting.
Even if qualified for one of the few absentee excuses a voter must re-apply seven days before every election with photo ID, then have two witnesses simultaneously notarize their ballot. This is unattainably difficult and makes in-person election day voting the only option for most voters. These barriers show systematic discrimination in voting throughout Alabama history, continuing through today.
As contained in the SPLC’s report, Latasha from Jefferson County, Alabama commented: “For the generations who had to live through the Jim Crow era before me, I needed to cast my vote. I want to be an agent of change for the future. I believe that voting gives you your voice and the ability to change laws to help generations down the line.”
Under the VRA, voter registration for voters of color nearly doubled in Louisiana but since Shelby County, lawmakers have persisted in efforts to erode Black political participation. The DOJ during the preclearance regime needed to counter more than 150 discriminatory voting changes in the state. Today, Louisiana imposes burdensome barriers to absentee voting and limits the number of early voting locations per parish, creating excessively long lines. The state refuses to provide Sunday early voting while using redistricting and at-large elections to diminish Black representation and rob voters of color of their voice in the political process.
“It feels like they’re trying to keep us from voting. My ancestors—like my mom—had to go through a lot to get us to where we are today. She had it hard. She was born in Jim Crow days and really had to fight for things like the ability to vote. But if they’re trying so hard to keep us from voting, it must be because our vote matters. That’s what I want people to hear,” explained Valarie of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Mississippi lawmakers have made voting incredibly difficult for everyone, especially for Black Mississippians. The state has no online voting registration, no early voting, and no same-day registration. Instead, they have strict photo ID and absentee voting laws. Absentee voters must have both their application and their ballot notarized, often incurring notary fees. In other words, Mississippi enforces a modern-day poll tax on absentee voters.
Mississippi closes and moves polling places at alarming rates, often without adequate notice to voters. Furthermore, Mississippi continues to strip voting rights from anyone convicted of a disqualifying felony conviction, disproportionately affecting Black Mississippians, and the Mississippi Supreme Court recently nullified the ballot initiative process for voters to change policy without legislative action. The DOJ has objected to more than 169 proposed voting changes in Mississippi since the passage of the VRA.
“I find it all so infuriating because so many of these restrictions that are already in place are obvious Jim Crow holdovers. And I’m an upper middle class white lady! Imagine how a person of color or others with less forgiving jobs or all manner of challenges must feel. I feel strongly that laws should make it easier for people to vote,” stated Caitlin of Oxford, Mississippi.
“The United States claims to be the world’s oldest democracy, but from its founding to today it has never fully secured and defended the right to vote for all Americans, particularly Black Americans and other voters of color,” concluded Short. “It’s past time Congress restore the Voting Rights Act to its full promise and ensure states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi can no longer change voting processes without necessary oversight that Black voters and other voters of color are not being harmed.”
Full url links to each report follow:
For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.