Last week the Supreme Court considered, among other issues, whether there was any "end in sight" for the Voting Rights Act provision that "intrudes on states' rights to conduct elections." Voting rights are only seasonally on the minds of the public, every four years mostly, and just a little bit during off years and intermediate elections. While I am not a scholar of Voting Rights, I have worked to protect voters rights both in my position as an Illinois Assistant Attorney General and as a volunteer for Election Protection, a non-partisan organization comprised primarily of attorneys across the country who run both a call center and field attorneys to the counties. I work in the field.
In 2008 I volunteered to work Election Protection in Kane County, a "collar county" of Chicago, well-known for voter suppression. In fact, in 2008, Kane County was subject to an order of the DOJ based on violations of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act for Hispanic voters. Covering 26 precincts in 2008, I saw all kinds of attempted voter intimidation by poll workers to prevent minorities from voting, primarily in the form of questioning the voter's registered address or sending the voter to a different polling place. As part of their enforcement, the DOJ sent representatives in black suits to stand around the polls - oddly enough, this effort ended up intimidating voters almost as much as the poll workers.
Last fall, November 2012, I volunteered again to work Kane County. Now released from the DOJ order via a "Memorandum of Compliance," Kane was back to it's usual business of suppresssion. This time, poll workers were instructed to request identification from voters (not required in Illinois) and to delay voting for as long as possible by being required to call into the County Clerk to get "authorization" for a voter to vote. No one from Election Protection was informed of this new County "procedure" in advance of the election and in fact, when anyone from a polling place called the Clerk there was no answer. In one precinct a young voter was detained for well over an an hour waiting for "Clerk approval" to vote. In another instance poll workers pretended to look up names and addresses in the computer system and mysteriously could not find them depending on the race of the voter until we, the field workers, contacted a supervisor, who then found the names immediately. We found one woman outside crying because she was told she couldn't vote. After another hour, we managed to get her "registration" straightened out and she voted. She thanked us. Between 5:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. my team saved four votes and lost one, a man who could not wait around because he had to go to work (a famous suppression tactic). But we could not be in 26 precincts simultaneously so no one knows how many other voters were turned away.
A worker at one precinct who was well-aware of historic suppression tactics showed me how precinct workers looked up names and told me about how in certain precincts, where there is Section 8 housing, the workers can pretend that they "can't find" a name.
Voter suppression is alive and well and living in a County near you during every election. And the Court should gut the Act as unnecessary?