Courts Uphold Restrictive Voting Rights Laws In Two States That Could Impact The Presidential Election
As the nation inches closer and closer to the November election, most Americans are agonizing over whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (a hard choice if you believe they’re both the antichrist); however, some people have to also worry about whether or not they’ll be able to vote at all. On Thursday, courts made two important voters rights decisions in Ohio and Iowa that will keep lots of people in each state from having a say in who takes over the White House. Like well-known voter ID laws, the measures upheld in the Midwest will keep mostly poor minorities from voting, but they receive much less attention.
Let’s start with Ohio. A Columbus federal judge ruled Wednesday that the state can continue purging residents from its voter rolls if they haven’t voted in the last three elections. This means that registered voters can be kicked off for being inactive, leaving them unable to vote in November unless they realize what’s happened and register again (a giant hassle few are likely to go through). About two million people have already been eliminated in the last five years, leading the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) to challenge the law, asserting that it disproportionately affects the poor, minorities, and Democrats.
Brian Davis, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), said in an April ACLU of Ohio press release:
“As we have seen time and time again, homeless voters and other marginalized voters have to fight to make their voices heard in the electoral process. NEOCH works hard to bring these voters into the electoral process, but unfortunately, the state of Ohio, with the Supplemental Process, has illegally shut many of them out again.”
Because poor minority voters are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, Reuters’ analysis also revealed that voters in left-leaning areas of Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati were being purged at twice the rate of people in right-leaning neighborhoods. So, this law is having a similar effect as voter ID laws in other states that keep poor people without IDs from the polls, and taking away Democrats’ voting status could impact which way the swing state goes in the presidential election.
Iowa’s voting rights law, on the other hand, involves a very specific demographic — felons. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld a law Thursday that automatically strips convicted felons of their right to vote for life. Iowa’s felons can only regain the right to vote if the governor grants it to them, making it one of just three states with such harsh voting laws regarding former inmates.
The ACLU also instigated the Iowa case, this time on behalf of Kelli Jo Griffin, an Iowa mom trying to regain her voting status after a nonviolent drug conviction stripped her of her right. “People who have served their sentences should have the opportunity to fully contribute to their communities and to our democracy,” said Julie Ebenstein, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a 2014 press release. “Many of these citizens work, pay taxes, and raise their families in our communities, yet they continue to be unfairly punished and left without a political voice.”
Both Iowa’s and Ohio’s voting laws will determine who gets to vote in November and could have an impact on which candidate wins in each state. Although we live in a democracy, the right to vote doesn’t actually extend to everyone and differs state by state.