When we filed VOTE v. Louisiana, a lawsuit against the state to restore voting rights to 70,000 people on probation and parole, some maintained their pessimism that our state’s troublesome history on race and criminal justice would lead this effort to a dead end. But recent events have highlighted the importance of asserting, right now, that voting is a right and not a privilege.
Conservative courts strike down voter ID laws
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that the North Carolina Legislature’s voter ID law amounted to intentional discrimination against Black voters. In one particularly poignant quote, the court stated:
“Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.” (emphasis added).
We’ve seen similar outcomes on voter ID in Texas and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the cases are not fully resolved. The Governor of North Carolina has vowed to appeal. The Texas litigants have only entered a temporary agreement for 2016 voters, permitting paychecks or utility bills as acceptable forms of voter identification. But there are more: judges have made six rulings in two weeks that invalidated disenfranchisement in five states.
Voting is a right, not a privilege
‘Tis the season for political candidates, and their backers, to reflexively encourage everyone to vote. They will claim that America’s very existence depends on that vote. But a politician, or political party, can’t truly support the democratic process if they cannot even affirm the most basic right of citizenship. Those who do not support universal voting rights do not truly support rehabilitation and reintegration.
As we reform the criminal justice system to encourage positive behavior and present actual cures that address actual problems, we need to view its impacts in their entirety. We must show leadership in uniting the people of this country.