Voting Rights

3 posts

Digital-Age Discrimination: The Voting Rights Act, Language-Minorities, and Online Voter Registration

By Morgan E. Saunders

Online Voter Registration, a new and exciting advancement in election administration, conveniently allows individuals to register to vote on the Internet. However, Online Voter Registration also highlights deficiencies within the United States election system. Specifically, many states’ Online Voter Registration websites are only available in English, despite the fact that citizens in those states have a federally guaranteed right to access all of their election materials in a different language. This right comes from the minority-language provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which require certain states and counties to provide all election materials in specific languages other than English that are common within their jurisdictions. Unfortunately, these provisions often go unenforced or under-enforced. States and counties have been especially slow to come into compliance with the minority-language provisions with regards to their online election materials, like their Online Voter Registration websites. Due to the underenforcement of this section of the Voting Rights Act, there is little legal precedent on which to base future litigation. This Note argues that all Online Voter Registration systems provided by states containing minority-language covered jurisdictions must be provided to voters in all covered languages. It also provides both a litigation and legislative strategy to ensure full compliance with the minority-language provisions on the Internet. Achieving full compliance with the VRA is critical to ensure that non-English-speaking voters have equal access to the ballot.

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“Stamping” Out the Postage Poll Tax

By Samuel Ackerman

In the 1966 case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, the Supreme Court abolished the last vestiges of the Jim Crow-Era poll tax in one fell swoop under the Equal Protection Clause. The opinion emphasized that paying a tax or fee is irrelevant to one’s qualifications for voting and invidiously discriminates against the poor. Litigants have since invoked Harper to challenge poll tax-like policies, called constructive poll taxes. The doctrine surrounding constructive poll taxes, however, remains underdeveloped. This Note seeks to clearly establish what constitutes a constructive poll tax. This Note also responds to the 2021 case of Black Voters Matter Fund v. Secretary of State for Georgia, where the Eleventh Circuit held that requiring voters to pay for postage on mail ballots is not a constructive poll tax. Considering Harper’s philosophical underpinnings, the limited constructive poll tax case law and policy principles, this Note argues that a constructive poll tax exists whenever states require voters to pay a tax or fee unrelated to elections or buy an item or service to cast a ballot. Applying this definition to postage on mail ballots, this Note concludes that postage requirements constitute constructive poll taxes in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Finally, this Note advocates for strategic litigation and state-level legislation to abolish postage requirements for mail ballots and encourage a sea change in constructive poll tax doctrine.

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“Unpacking” the Problem: The Need to Broaden the Scope of Vote Dilution Claims Under Section 2 of the VRA

By Paul A. Riley, Jr.

There are two common types of gerrymandering: “cracking”— splitting a cohesive voting bloc across districts, and “packing”—over-consolidating a cohesive voting bloc into a single district. These types of gerrymandering can be partisan, but they can also be along racial lines. As this Note demonstrates, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has a remedy for cracking, but not for packing.

Through statistical analyses, this Note demonstrates the statistically significant relationship between race and the Cook Political Report’s “Partisan Voting Index,” as well as between race and voter turnout in the 2020 general and 2018 midterm elections. In particular, the statistical analyses reveal how race and PVI can serve as the pillars of a novel, three-factor test that would make vote-packing claims cognizable under Section 2 of the VRA. Finally, this Note proposes a framework that would broaden the definition of “vote dilution” under Section 2 of the VRA and would provide a remedy for minority voters who are packed into districts.

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