Voting Rights Disclosure

In my Harvard Law Review Forum piece Voting Rights Disclosure, I articulate my differences with NYU Professor Sam Issacharoff’s “non-civil rights” approach to voting rights (abstract below), and I propose detailed disclosure of voting changes for federal, state, and local elections.  Sam and I debated this issue at NYU in November (video here, our exchange runs from 1:07-1:33).

Spencer Overton, Voting Rights Disclosure127 Harvard Law Review Forum 19 (2013) 

ABSTRACT:  In Beyond the Discrimination Model On Voting, Professor Samuel Issacharoff proposes that Congress turn away from what he considers the outdated and “limited race-driven use” of the Fifteenth Amendment and instead protect all types of voters from partisan manipulation using a “non-civil rights” Elections Clause approach.  Specifically, Issacharoff proposes that jurisdictions disclose changes to voting rules for federal elections.  This Essay argues that Issacharoff’s approach is incomplete.  Contemporary discrimination exists and warrants attention—particularly where fast-growing minority populations threaten the status quo.  This discrimination differs from simple partisan manipulation, as the discrimination reduces incentives for cross-racial coalitions and fuels racial division.  Further, Issacharoff’s choice to move “beyond” race and abandon the Fifteenth Amendment limits his proposal to federal elections.  As a result, his proposal would overlook significant problems—at least 86.4% of all election changes that resulted in VRA section 5 objections since 2000 would not have been disclosed under Issacharoff’s proposal.  Unlike the high-profile restrictions he targets (e.g., photo ID triggered by “Republican control of the state legislature”), local voting changes missed by Issacharoff’s proposal are often decisive factors in non-partisan elections, attract little national media attention, and go unchallenged by local voters who lack resources to bring lawsuits.  Congress should deter voting discrimination by using the Fifteenth Amendment and the Elections Clause to require disclosure of election changes for federal, state, and local offices, as well as to require more detailed reporting than Issacharoff’s proposal.  Finally, disclosure alone is not enough.  Congress should also strengthen the VRA Section 3(c) bail-in procedure and streamline voting rights litigation.  Selecting between the Fifteenth Amendment and the Elections Clause is a false choice, as we can work both to prevent voting discrimination and to improve access to voting for all Americans.

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