In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act — a Civil Rights Era law that ensured minorities would not face discrimination at the ballot box.
The court’s decision ushered in a slew of new measures that voting rights advocates say unfairly impact minorities, students and working people — like stringent voter ID requirements, politically strategic redistricting, reduced early voting and limited availability of multilingual ballots. And without the oversight authority it has had since the 60s, the federal government can’t do anything about it.
To restore and strengthen voting access across the United States, Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is cosponsoring the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The new law would restore federal courts’ ability to review voting changes made at the state and local levels. The legislation makes room for a judge to consider whether a measure can still be discriminatory in effect, even if it doesn’t explicitly reference race. This review process would allow the federal government to keep an eye out for practices known to keep minorities from voting.
Bennet’s press secretary Laurie Cipriano called Colorado’s voting laws some of the strongest in the country. “We have universal mail-in, same-day registration, strong protections for minorities and bilingual ballots. This bill would really help ensure that future legislators don’t roll back progress we’ve made to expand access to the ballot box.”
On the other hand, some have been concerned that voting in Colorado is a little too accessible, like former Secretary of State Scott Gessler who sent letters to nearly 4,000 registered voters in 2012 asking for proof of citizenship in an effort to weed out voters who might’ve registered illegally. He ran their names through a federal database, and ended up purging 14 voters from the rolls. None of them had cast ballots in the last election.
Carla Castedo is state director for Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, a national nonprofit working to promote civic participation in the Latino community. From her experience in voting advocacy, she considers the idea that there’s rampant voter fraud as both untrue and illogical.
“There’s just no way to register to vote if their records don’t match,” she told The Colorado Independent by phone, citing all the forms of documentation people need. “Colorado is good about this.”
And even if people could commit voter fraud, she’s skeptical that they would. “People are very aware if they have limited work status or a limited visa that they can’t vote. It’s something they know and keep in mind. Because it’s a felony, it would bar you from ever becoming a citizen.”
That’s why the work she does at Mi Familia is focused on encouraging everyone who can vote to do so. She praised Colorado’s new pre-registration system, which lets 16 year-olds get on the voter rolls so that when they turn 18, they’re automatically good to go. Colorado works to get bilingual ballots to those who need them, she said.
“Democracy works best when we all participate,” Castedo said. “Making sure we have access to voting is essential for the community.”
Republican Sen. Cory Gardner’s office didn’t respond to The Colorado Independent’s questions about whether he’ll support the bill.
Photo by Erik Hersman, Creative Commons, via Flickr.