The Stream

The fight to protect US voter rights

Controversial new measures restrict poll access for many US minorities and young voters.

More than 50 years have passed since activists succeeded in passing legislation to protect voting rights for minorities. But new voter restrictions have some asking, has the country regressed?

The state of Arizona recently made headlines after thousands were forced to wait in line for hours to vote in the presidential primary. One county reduced its polling stations by 70 percent, causing some voters to walk away discouraged by the long lines. There were also more polling places in predominantly white neighbourhoods than in Hispanic, black and other minority areas. The governor criticised election officials for the handling of the situation, and Phoenix’s mayor has called for an investigation by the Department of Justice. 

Many blame that ordeal on the US Supreme Court’s change of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark piece of legislation prevented racial discrimination in voting. But in 2013, the Supreme Court declared a provision of the act to be unconstitutional. The provision had required states and counties with a history of voter discrimination to request federal approval before changing their election laws.

This ruling paved the way for controversial voter ID laws making it harder for minorities and low income individuals to get registered. Some states also began to experience voter registration shutdowns, cutbacks in early voting and other changes critics argue are aiding in voter suppression.

For the first time in a presidential election, 16 states will have new voting restrictions in place. Critics say these roadblocks are set to disenfranchise the new majority-minority in the country from having a voice. But those in favor of these laws say they are intended to prevent voter fraud and to protect the integrity of the electoral process. We discuss at 19:30 GMT.

On this episode, we speak to:

Barbara Arnwine @barbs73
President, Transformative Justice Coalition

Ari Berman @AriBerman
Senior writer, The Nation

Tomas Robles @TomasRobles14
Co-Executive Director, Living United for Change in Arizona

Bob Ballinger @Bob_Ballinger
State Representative, State of Arkansas

Have US voter ID laws affected your ability to vote? Share your thoughts or story below.