Real Clear Politics: Court Bends Over Backward to Disenfranchise Voters of Color
By: Jaime Harrison
July 3, 2021
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled on Brnovich v. DNC and once again set back voting rights in the United States. In 2016, the Democratic National Committee sued the state of Arizona over two restrictive voting laws. One law automatically tossed out votes that were cast in the wrong precinct. The other law made third-party ballot collection — a practice that communities of color rely on in Arizona — illegal. Together, the laws made voting disproportionately harder for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous voters.
When Congress enacted Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, it had this sort of nonsense in mind. Our leaders knew then that racist voter suppression tactics often appear neutral at first glance. It was more important to consider unequal impact on voters of color. These two Arizona laws are textbook examples of what Section 2 of the VRA was intended to outlaw. They affected voters of color uniquely and severely. You don’t need to be a judge to see that. You just need common sense.
And yet, a conservative 6-3 majority twisted themselves in knots to uphold both laws. And in the process, they conjured the ghost of Jim Crow.
The Supreme Court refused to see sufficient discriminatory impact in the fact that Latinx voters, including elderly and disabled voters, used ballot collection at a rate far greater than white voters. Or that, on tribal lands, where the nearest mailbox can be up to two hours away, ballot collection was often the only practical way to vote absentee.
The court’s majority is apparently fine with the reality created by the out-of-precinct voting law, one in which Black, Indigenous, and Latinx voters are twice as likely to have their votes tossed out.
Make no mistake, the court’s ruling will have profound consequences. It will embolden Republicans to unleash a tsunami of similar seemingly neutral, but viciously discriminatory, laws across the country. For decades the Voting Rights Act prevented attempts to disenfranchise voters. At a time when voters need greater protection from federal law, the Supreme Court has decided instead to give them less. My grandfather and I used to vote together, and he was no stranger to voter suppression. As a Black man in South Carolina during Jim Crow, he fit the description of who literacy tests and grandfather clauses were meant to single out. He said the people in power didn’t even see him as a person. They just saw him as an obstacle.
Republican legislators across the country see voters as obstacles to power. If you live on tribal lands, they want absentee voting to feel almost impossible. If you’re used to voting where you always do, they have no problem shuffling precincts around and tossing out your ballot. Sadly, none of this is necessary. If Republican lawmakers spent their time serving their communities instead of changing the rules to stay in power, they wouldn’t have to worry about getting voted out in the first place. Maybe they’re fully aware that their policies aren’t good for the American people.
Democrats believe in the strength of our work and our ideas. We want voters to judge us on what we deliver. That’s why we’re fighting to make every vote count. We don’t have any interest in sitting around and wringing our hands. In 2020, we implemented our most comprehensive on-the-ground infrastructure ever. We had voter protection staff in 33 states and invested in technology to proactively respond to voter suppression efforts. We expanded our national voter hotline and launched a new tool to track voter roll purges. We improved IWillVote.com so voters can access vital information like their polling locations and make sure their votes count.
In 2022, we’re going to do even more. We’re already making historic investments to shore up our state party infrastructure and help fund voter protection staff in key states like Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. We will have boots on the ground in these places well ahead of the midterm elections. Across the country, we’ll be doing more than just poll watching. We’ll be educating, advocating for, and organizing voters so they’re equipped to take on voter suppression tactics in their state. In Congress, we’ll keep fighting to pass voting rights legislation — and that’s just the start.
We know that Republican lawmakers will try to exploit Thursday’s ruling by the court to make voting harder. That is undeniable. But what is also undeniable is that Democrats will continue to fight back. We will champion voting rights and deliver for the American people. We will remain firm in our belief that the American people reward leaders who respond to the needs of the communities they serve. It is the philosophy that has informed us through the years, from the New Deal, to the 1965 Civil Rights Act, to the American Rescue Plan. The Supreme Court may have made the path forward more difficult, but we are no stranger to tall tasks or long odds.
Now, let’s get to work.
Jaime Harrison is chairman of the Democratic National Committee.