Ornstein: time for a new Voting Rights Act


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Political scientist and high priest of Beltway centrism, Norman Ornstein, has an important opinion in the Washington Post today advocating for A new Voting Rights Act (posted in full):

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

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:

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.

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.

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.”


  1. Ornstein should be congratulated for being an honest voice even though he is a resident scholar at the AEI. His book “Even Worse Than It Looks” mentioned above is a damning indictment of the GOP obstuctionist tactics in Congress.

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