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Pros and Cons of Voting Rights Act

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“To ignore the effects that voting laws have on different racial groups would be, at best, irresponsible and, at worst, dangerous” (Quillin 23). Voter ID laws, better described as voter impersonation laws, are laws that are put in place to deter citizens from fraudulently voting. These types of laws are made to police in-person voting and do little to protect against mail-in and absentee voter fraud. Stemming from practices that were put into place to discriminate against already disenfranchised groups, these laws ultimately hurt groups of voters like people of color, the elderly, and the youth. Voter ID laws are ultimately not as necessary as they are made out to be and are possibly harmful to American democracy.

Modern-day voter ID laws require the voter to present some form of identification before being allowed to vote. These laws stem from practices that were developed in the infancy of American democracy. Practices like poll taxes, white primaries, literacy tests, and the grandfather clause are all examples of prerequisites and restrictions that were put into place that a voter would have to submit to before having access to a ballot. In 1944 Smith v Allwright outlawed the use of white primaries and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the 24th Amendment made poll taxes unconstitutional. These were crucial in giving people of color access to the polls and made way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act gave the national government power to decide whether individuals were qualified to vote and to interject themselves with state and local election operations when they deem necessary. The Voting Rights Act also stated that “Counties covered under the Voting Rights Act (all of nine southern states and parts of seven other states) had to submit to the U.S. Department of Justice any changes in election laws, such as new precinct lines or new polling places, well in advance of the election. This is known as the preclearance provisions” (Bowman 73). Between 1950 and 1980 five states; South Carolina, Hawaii, Texas, Florida, and Alaska, were the first states that requested voters to show identification. This did not include any photos but just a document with the voter’s name. These states also had provisions in place for a voter to be able to cast a ballot even if they did not have the identification that was requested. This expanded to fourteen states by 2000. The 2000 presidential election was incredibly impactful on election practices. Although it had virtually nothing to do with voter fraud congress wanted to reform election practices to avoid the issues the 2000 election brought about. The Help America Vote Act was passed in 2000 which was made to make sweeping reforms to the American voting process. It also included “A reasonable provision about presenting some form of ID for any voter who registers by mail and who has never voted in a federal election” (Underhill 25). This also led to the development of the Carter-Baker commission, which was the commission on federal election reform. This commission was led by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James A. Baker III. This commission recommended to congress that all voters should be required to present photo IDs when placing a ballot. This is one of the earliest instances of what modern-day voter ID laws have become, however, Congress has not acted on this recommendation.

After the 2005 commission recommendation to include photo identification certain states started doing just that. Georgia and Indiana pioneered what is now known as strict voter ID laws. This is where voters cannot cast a regular ballot without presenting a valid ID. Differing from state to state, the valid form of ID may include a photo or no photo ID. Photo identification includes items such as driver’s licenses, state-issued ID cards, military ID, or tribal ID. Non-photo identification is documentation that includes the voter’s name and place of residence like a bank statement. Other states use non-strict voter id laws which are when voters can still cast a regular ballot if they do not have the requested ID by verifying their identity by other means. This can be done by signing an affidavit or the poll workers may vouch for the voter. States like New Hampshire will send a letter to the address on the affidavit and it must be returned signed saying that the person living at the address is the one that signed the affidavit. They also may be given a provisional ballot which will only be counted after the close of election day if the voter was eligible and determined via a signature or other verification that they are who they say they are. Most states that have strict voter identification make some exceptions. For example, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, and five other states all have exceptions for when someone has a religious objection to being photographed.

Arguably, the most important court case surrounding voter ID laws was the 2013 supreme court case Shelby County v Holder. This 5-4 decision determined that section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional. This decision struck down the preclearance provision which, as noted above, required states that had a history of discrimination to get clearance from the federal government before implementing any new voting procedures. In his opinion, Justice Roberts stated that they felt that the country had changed and there was no need for the provision anymore. However, in her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsberg stated that between 1982 and 2006 the Voting Rights Act had struck down over seven hundred voting changes that were all determined to be discriminatory. After this decision, the number of states with voter ID laws in place rose to twenty by 2016.

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Modern-day voter ID laws have been highly debated since their insurgence in the early 2000s. There has been very little evidence of voter fraud that voter ID laws are meant to protect against. A study from Arizona State University found that from 2000 to 2012 voter fraud was virtually non-existent. A different study also conducted by Arizona State University found that in five states; Arizona, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, and Kansas there was no instance of voter fraud between 2012 and 2016. This is significant as these are all states where politicians have declared voter ID laws a necessity (Quillin). There are a few main reasons politicians have cited for the need for voter ID laws, regardless of the evidence presented. The first is that they claim to be helping restore the confidence the voting public has in the electoral system. Election officials have stated that voters feel more protected with these laws in place. However, a study by Stephen Ansolabehere and Nathaniel Persily reported that “perceptions of fraud have no relationship to an individual’s likelihood of turning out to vote” (Quillin). A second reason is that photo IDs are already common and that they are necessary for many activities such as driving. The Brennan Center for Justice found that “as many as 11 percent of the eligible voters do not have a government-issued photo ID” (Quillin). This might be due to the financial burden that photo IDs have, which can be anywhere between two to seventy-nine dollars for an application fee. Also, the percentage of people who do not have a photo ID is higher in seniors, people of color, low-income adults, students, and people with disabilities.

Historically, African Americans have been one of the most discriminated against groups of people in the United States. This continues with the use of voter ID laws as they have been found to affect African Americans more than any other group of people. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Up to 25% of African American citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of whites” (Oppose Voter ID Legislation). In 2013, the same year the supreme court passed the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina passed a law that made sweeping changes to their voter ID and voting practices. This law was later struck down in 2016, being called the most restrictive voting law the state has passed since the era of Jim Crow. First, the law made it so that photo ID requirements were more restrictive when it was found that African Americans used photo IDs that were not driver’s licenses more than any other group. Second, the law eliminated out-of-precinct voting after legislators requested provisional voting data which included out-of-precinct voting after the data showed that African Americans were more likely to vote provisionally. Third, the law got rid of the use of pre-registration again after it was shown that African Americans were shown to disproportionately use pre-registration to register to vote. Finally, after it was found that African Americans voted more than any other group in the first seven days before the election the law reduced the number of early voting days as well as eliminated the first full week of early voting (Quillin). This law is one of the many examples of voter ID laws that have been created since Shelby County v Holder that create a harmful voting environment.

One of the newest groups that can be affected by these laws is transgender individuals that do not have the gender they present as on their ID. The U.S Transgender survey found that thirty-two percent of the 28,000 transgender persons who responded reported having negative experiences as they were trying to cast a ballot. “Respondents reported being verbally harassed (twenty-five percent), denied services or benefits (sixteen percent), asked to leave the venue (nine percent), and assaulted or attacked (two percent) after presenting an ID that did not match their gender presentation” (Moreau).

Given the evidence provided, voter ID laws are not well thought out or developed, are harmful to large groups of voters, and have little evidence to back up their usage. The first way to rectify these issues is to reverse the decision of Shelby County v Holder. By taking out the preclearance provision the Supreme Court has made it possible for states that still have issues with discriminatory voting practices to continue this harmful behavior. Reversing this decision will allow congress to again regulate new voting practices and be able to limit the number of discriminatory practices. Secondly, the United States and individual state congress need to work together and focus on laws that pertain to absentee and mail-in voter fraud rather than in-person voter fraud. Voter impersonation is one of the least reported types of voter fraud. It is much easier to forge a signature rather than pretending to be someone else in person. Although North Carolina’s voter ID laws were stuck down, if they were still in effect, they would not have helped against the large case of absentee voter fraud that occurred in their 9th congressional district during the 2018 elections. In this case, a man was hired by a firm that was helping organize republican candidate Mark Harris’s campaign. This man then paid people in cash to go and collect residents’ absentee and mail-in ballots, which is illegal as third parties cannot handle ballots. These people then finished filling out the ballots in favor of Mark Harris and other republican candidates or threw out the ones that were already filled out in favor of the democratic candidates. The result ended in Harris winning by only 828 votes but winning an implausible ninety-six percent of the absentee votes in a single county (Waldman). This type of voter fraud is what lawmakers should be focusing on as there is a higher chance of it seriously affecting the outcome of elections. It is a fundamental right for a citizen of the United States to be able to elect their representatives. It is important to protect this right and the privilege it is to vote. By creating strict voter ID laws this right and privilege is being infringed upon and is an overall threat to American democracy.

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Pros and Cons of Voting Rights Act. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Pros and Cons of Voting Rights Act.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
Pros and Cons of Voting Rights Act. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
Pros and Cons of Voting Rights Act [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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