President Biden and Congress are taking steps to support and increase access to the ballot box, even as some state legislatures strengthen restrictions. The issue likely will go to the Supreme Court, and we hope the justices recognize the need to support equal access as long as secure voting can be assured.
Biden on Saturday signed an executive order that expands voter registration options and access to election information, among other measures. The order begins action that Congress will seek to support with legislation that updates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The act needs such updates, as several provisions have come into question. In fact, several measures are being debated in various federal courts at this time.
One of the major issues regarding the Voting Rights Act is the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that cleared several states, including Texas, from having to secure federal approval to changes in state voting laws. Since that ruling state officials have imposed voter ID laws, reduced early voting periods and made several efforts to purge eligible voter rolls of millions of names.
Despite complaints that the high court ruled incorrectly, its decision simply stated that the criteria upon which that federal preclearance was based had become outdated; the court rendered those criteria invalid and asked the Congress to establish new, current criteria to determine if federal oversight of states’ election laws and procedures was still warranted. Those updates haven’t occurred.
Complicating the issue are other Supreme Court rulings. One states that while political districts can’t be drawn to help or hurt voters according to race, they can be drawn to benefit one political party over another. Another decision held that the courts — including the Supreme Court itself — are not the place to decide the composition of voting districts.
Both of these rulings are problematic. Officials have successfully argued that even if political district boundaries hurt minority voters, that injury is incidental because the goal was to gain political, not racial advantage, and minorities choose to vote one way rather than another.
However, allowing discrimination along political lines is still discrimination; it allows the use of government assets to favor one party over others and weakens the will of the people if those people want change. In addition, it isn’t a long leap of logic to recognize that unequal treatment based on political beliefs could extend to unequal treatment based on religious beliefs or other characteristics that are expressly protected in our Constitution.
And while the court’s assertion that such matters are best addressed though legislation rather than litigation, judicial review is still needed to assure that laws enforcing a tyranny of the majority don’t trample the rights of the minority.
Updating the law surely will bring new legal challenges, but it is necessary. In the end, we hope the process helps give all eligible voters clear access to the polls on Election Day.