Long Lines are the New Poll Taxes

With voting lines reaching 6-hours long in places like Maricopa County, Arizona, the U.S. election process has found a new way to disenfranchise voters based on income and it's called long lines. There are few voters who can afford to spend 6-hours on a weekday to vote in a Presidential primary and still make ends meet. Businesses are not required to compensate voters for the time spent in line and now citizens are forced to choose between making their political voice heard and sacrificing nearly 20% of their weekly paycheck. Long lines have become the substitute for poll taxes.

Poll Taxes were abolished in 1962 with the adoption of the 24th amendment to the Constitution. Not every state ratified this amendment with Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming still refusing to ratify the amendment today.  All of those states, with the exception of Wyoming, have some form of Voter-ID law and all of them have had a history of voter suppression.

Not only are poll taxes illegal because of this constitutional amendment, but the Supreme Court unanimously decided in Harman v. Forssenius (1965) that "the poll tax is abolished absolutely as a prerequisite to voting, and no equivalent or milder substitute may be imposed." The decision came after the state of Virginia provided an "escape clause" to the amendment which still instituted a poll tax, but voters could file paperwork to gain a certificate establishing residence in Virginia, thus waving any required poll tax. The papers would have to be filed six months in advance and the voter would have to provide a copy of the certificate at the time of voting.

The Supreme Court ruled that this Virginia poll tax exemption was an unreasonable burden on the voter and violated the new amendment to the Constitution.

Fast-forward to 2008 where the modern Supreme Court ruled in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008)  that states have the right to force voters to bring ID with them as a prerequisite to voting because it was determined to be part of a legitimate state interest in preventing voter fraud. This is the first time that Supreme Court has even slightly backed away from its decision in Harman. Then in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court decided to repeal Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This enabled states to make their own election laws without the consent of the federal government.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act prevented states who had a history of voter suppression from making unilateral decisions about their own election laws and required them to obtain consent from the federal government in order to make those changes. Arizona was one of those states that had a history of voter suppression and needed federal consent in order to change its election laws.  In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled that this federal oversight established in the 1965 Voting Rights act was no longer need. Chief  Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court citing that "Our country has changed" and "Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions."

With the repeal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the implementation of Voter ID laws in the majority of U.S. states, we have inadvertently created another unreasonable burden on voters in the form of long-lines. By allowing Arizona to make its own election laws without review by the federal government, Maricopa County was able to change the amount of polling locations from 200 in 2012 to just 60. This change was made despite there being a Republican and Democratic primary on the same day, and record turnout in other states across the country. This created massive lines in the voting process with some voters not casting a vote until after midnight.  With the implementation of Arizona's new Voter ID law, citizens who waited in that 6-hour long line would be given a provisional ballot if they didn't have the correct form of ID.

What is the correct form of ID? You need an Arizona driver's license that has the exact address to which you are registered to vote at. Any difference and you get a provisional ballot if you don't have your voter registration card with you. If you have a provisional ballot there is a strong chance that your 5 hours in line will be in vain. These ID laws have shown to increase these lines. The Pew Research center found that wait times increased by 50 percent when the voter-ID law was partially implemented.

These long-lines and Voter ID laws have created an unreasonable burden on voters and that burden happened because the Supreme Court thought "our country has changed." That we did not need any civil rights protections on the election process, because states were past discrimination and would never do that again.   Make no mistake, long lines are the new substitute for poll taxes. They come out of the spirit of Jim Crow.  They are there are on purpose to suppress the vote in any way possible.

Voting needs to be easier. Voting needs to be accessible for everyone, including those who work for a living. And to be honest, I don't think anyone should trust the state of Arizona to do that on their own.

 

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