WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 4, 2014) — In the lead up to the 2014 midterm elections, the United States witnessed one of the greatest assaults on the right to vote in many generations. Many states implemented voting restrictions that made it more difficult—and, in some cases, impossible—for voters of color to participate in the 2014 midterm elections.Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating 2013 decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which invalidated a core protection of the Voting Rights Act, or VRA, a number of states implemented new, restrictive voting laws. These included significant reductions in early voting, limitations on same-day registration, and strict photo identification requirements, including one that was ruled to be intentionally discriminatory.
A new report released today by the Center for American Progress, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., and the Southern Elections Foundation estimates the impact of these voting restrictions on the ability of communities of color in Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia—jurisdictions that have seen significant increases in both the overall population and the rate of political participation of communities of color—to participate in the 2014 midterm elections. This report’s analysis of the available evidence from this election season strongly suggests that these new restrictions on the right to vote disenfranchised large numbers of voters.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy,” said Ben Jealous, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, chairman of the Southern Elections Foundation, and co-author of the report. “The free exercise of the franchise is essential to the preservation and protection of all other constitutional rights,” he continued. “It serves as a check on America’s political leaders and as a source of power for the American people. In this way, the vote is a tangible measure both of what we are as a nation and of what we aspire to be. While it is still too early to fully analyze the impact of these new restrictive voting laws, the raw numbers and anecdotal evidence paint a picture that justifies advocates’ continued concerns about photo ID laws.”
“At this point in our history, we should be harnessing the historic momentum of the last several election cycles to collectively encourage more people to participate in the political process,” said Ryan P. Haygood, deputy director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. and co-author of the report. “Instead of embracing this important democracy-inclusion principle, too many states are actively seeking to make it harder for voters of color in particular to vote through concerted efforts. Our report today is a call to action to encourage communities to refuse to let that happen on their watch. We also urge Congress to restore the voting rights protections eliminated by the Supreme Court by passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act.”
While the precise impact of strict voting laws on the results of the 2014 midterm elections is still unknown, it is clear that the number of people predicted to face increased difficulties in voting during the election either approaches or exceeds the margins of victory for important statewide races.
This report concentrated on Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia for the following reasons:
Citizens of color in each of the five states participated in the past two presidential elections in record numbers and comprised a larger share of the eligible voting population than ever before.
The data provided by the 2010 Census demonstrate that communities of color in these states—and eligible voters within those populations—are rapidly expanding in size and are on track to continue this accelerated growth for the foreseeable future.
Each state introduced at least one new restrictive voting law or voter suppression policy that applied in the 2014 elections and disproportionately affected people of color.
Four of these five states—with the exception of North Carolina—experienced sharp decreases in voter turnout from the 2010 midterm elections, likely due, at least in part, to the laws making it harder to vote in 2014.
The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just, and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values, and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans.
The Southern Elections Foundation is dedicated to confronting the recent, large-scale voter suppression efforts across the South by building local infrastructure to make it possible to run massive voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs in every affected state.