Let's enact a new Voting Rights Act

Shutterstock.com

  • Title:

    It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism
  • Format:

    Paperback
  • Paperback Price:

    16.99
  • Paperback ISBN:

    978-0465074730
  • Format:

    HardCover
  • Hardcover Price:

    26.00
  • Hardcover ISBN:

    978-0465031337
  • Buy the Book

Article Highlights

  • The time is ripe for a new Voting Rights Act that underscores voting as a sacred right for citizens & makes voting easy.

    Tweet This

  • The chances are slim that our polarized Congress can reach agreement on a new formula for the Voting Rights Act.

    Tweet This

  • However lawmakers resolve the issue of preclearance, a VRA 2.0 should also include 4 key items.

    Tweet This

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

Imagine an intersection with a long history of high-speed car crashes, injuries and fatalities. Authorities put up a traffic light and a speed camera — and the accidents and injuries plummet. A few years later, authorities declare “mission accomplished” and remove the light and speed camera. No surprise, the high-speed crashes and fatalities resume almost immediately.

This is the logic that animated Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to fillet the Voting Rights Act and that had conservative pundits, including George F. Will, praising the act as they simultaneously exulted in its demise. The predictable result took less than a day: Texas reinstated its racially tilted gerrymandered redistricting plan and moved to implement its highly restrictive voter ID law, under which voters can be required to travel as far as 250 miles to get identification. The real intent, voter suppression, is clear in the legislation’s provision that a concealed-weapon permit can be used to vote but a valid student photo ID cannot.

North Carolina has moved to follow with its own restrictive voter ID law. Other states and localities surely will do the same. With expensive, slow and complex lawsuits the only real recourse for voter discrimination and voter suppression actions, the floodgates are open to an array of legal efforts designed to suppress or diminish the votes of minorities, students and others.

As Roberts undoubtedly knew, the chances are slim that our highly polarized Congress can reach agreement on a new formula for the Voting Rights Act (even if lawmakers did, the Roberts court may not accept it). But the decision in Shelby County v. Holder should serve as a springboard to something more ambitious: a drive for a new Voting Rights Act that would go beyond the scope of the original to make voting more universal and accessible to all eligible Americans.

Section 4 of the act, which the court struck down, set out a formula by which certain states and jurisdictions are designated to need federal permission for any changes to their voting procedures. If Congress cannot agree on a formula for which states and localities to include for this preclearance, election reform expert Heather Gerken has suggested another option: Allow civil rights groups and the minority voters they represent, anywhere in the nation, to “opt in” to the Voting Rights Act by filing an administrative complaint with the Justice Department when their voting rights are constrained.

However lawmakers resolve the issue of preclearance, a VRA 2.0 should also include:

●A separate federal ballot. Congress has the clear constitutional right to manage federal elections. A separate ballot for federal races strengthens that control. Other advantages include no more confusing butterfly ballots; there would be no more than three races (president, Senate and House) on a federal ballot. No more provisional ballots or access denied if someone shows up at the wrong polling place; the vote would still count only for those federal offices.

●A new voter registration regime. The United States is the only major democracy where the burden of registering to vote is on the citizen. The default should be that eligible citizens are presumed registered, with same-day voter registration available for those not registered via their draft registration or driver’s license. Ideally, Congress would provide the funds to modernize voter registration lists and create a 21st-century voting process in which voters could get personalized ballots printed, with all the offices they are eligible to vote on, at any polling place in their vicinity. Why shouldn’t Americans be able to vote at any nearby polling center?

●Weekend Election Day. As WhyTuesday.org has pointed out, the law mandating federal elections on Tuesdays was crafted in 1845 to accommodate Market Day. “Election Day” should suit contemporary American life: a 24-hour period from noon Saturday to noon Sunday, with early voting the week before. This would eliminate “rush-hour” backlogs early in the morning and at the end of the day, as well as Sabbath problems. If Wal-Mart can stay open 24/7, our democracy can stay open 24 hours once every two years.

●A Social Security card as a valid voter ID. Any American citizen who can provide proof of a valid Social Security number should be able to obtain, free, a Social Security card with a photo. It should be mandated as acceptable for identification wherever a photo ID is required to vote. Such cards should be available not just at Social Security offices but also at post offices.

The time is ripe for a new Voting Rights Act that underscores voting as a sacred right for citizens and makes voting easy. If there is a silver lining in the cloud created by Roberts’s decision, it is that we can begin a sustained drive to make that happen.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Norman J.
Ornstein

What's new on AEI

Love people, not pleasure
image Oval Office lacks resolve on Ukraine
image Middle East Morass: A public opinion rundown of Iraq, Iran, and more
image Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad and the facts they didn't tell you
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.