By David Sheridan, photo above by United Workers on Flickr
Last week two Federal court decisions gave educators and other voter rights advocates renewed hope in the battle against efforts to suppress the minority vote.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’s photo ID law violates the Voting Rights Act by denying black and Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. At stake in Texas are the votes of more than 600,000 people, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
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For Montserrat Garibay, a National Board Certified teacher in Austin, Texas, “This court decision is a big step. I live in a state where they’ve put up these hurdles to minority and poor people voting. The first time I voted, after becoming a citizen, I was challenged. The name on my voter registration was Montserrat Garibay, but the one on my photo ID was Montserrat Garibay Hernandez. It took a lot of time and explaining before I was allowed to vote.”
There is no doubt in Montserrat Garibay’s mind that the law’s intent was to suppress the voice of minority voters. “After all, voting empowers people and communities.” Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer agrees: “The Texas photo ID law has “the stink of discrimination.” Rep. Martinez-Fischer is chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), which along with NAACP, challenged the Texas photo ID law in court.
In Wisconsin, a federal district court ruled that people who are unable to obtain a voter ID can instead vote by signing an affidavit. This decision restores the voting rights of nine percent of the electorate who lack a voter ID.
“This is a huge victory for our students, parents, grandparents and our community,” says Amy Mizialko, a special education teacher and Milwaukee Teachers Education Association Vice President. “But we know that we have to continue to fight for a voting process that is open and free of discrimination.”
Wisconsin has made it very difficult to acquire the required voter ID. The state’s DMV has rejected nearly a fifth of all applicants for a voter ID, 85 percent of whom are black, Hispanic, or Native American.
Besides Texas and Wisconsin, some other states with restrictive photo voter ID laws are Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia.
It was only after America elected its first black president in 2008 that restrictive voting laws really gathered momentum among right-wing legislators and governors. More than two dozen states rushed to pass such laws—all in the name of “preventing voter fraud.” However, none of the supporters of these restrictive voting laws could produce evidence that voter fraud of any significance had actually occurred in their state.
To make matters worse, in 2013, in Shelby County v Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a crucial piece of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. Emboldened by Shelby County v Holder, other right-wing state legislators and governors joined the stampede, passing restrictive voter laws.
Like many voting rights advocates, Rep. Martinez Fischer says, “We cannot rely on the courts to protect our voting rights. Congress must act to restore the Voting Rights Act.”