OP-ED: Voting rights are under attack nationwide


Voting rights are under assault across the United States.

The shutting down of 31 driver's license offices in Alabama, many of them in predominantly black areas, is the latest and most egregious attack. Just a year ago, a new state law made it compulsory for voters to possess photo IDs. Hillary Rodham Clinton has rightly called the closings "a blast from the Jim Crow past."

Republicans have been busy trying to silence the political voice of minority groups in state after state. Their purported reason for cracking down is widespread voter fraud, but multiple studies have shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent.

In Wisconsin, the state Legislature has disallow-ed several common forms of photo ID for the purposes of voting. Other states are even trying to figure out ways to manipulate the nonvoting, largely black and Latino prison populations to gerrymander elections. The Florida state government is attempting to count disenfranchised prisoners as residents of the county in which they are incarcerated, even if they can't vote there, instead of as residents of the county where they last lived.

The Voting Rights Act was necessary because Southern states had historically made it extremely difficult for blacks to vote. Its evisceration in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder U.S. Supreme Court decision has given the GOP the permission to erect hurdles for minorities again.

The Republicans are also responding to the election of our nation's first black president, who won without a majority of the white vote. Obama took the White House in 2008 with 96 percent of African-American votes and two-thirds of Latinos, Asian-Americans and Native Americans. White voting power is declining. That's why a number of states are disenfranchising people of color without acknowledging that race figures prominently in what they are doing.

Thankfully, a number of states are moving in the opposite direction. California has passed a new law mandating that citizens be automatically registered to vote when they obtain or renew their driver's license or state ID. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia are trying to pass or already have passed similar laws.

We as a nation need to take our lead from California, not Alabama.

— Starita Smith has been an award-winning journalist at the Gary Post-Tribune (Gary, Ind.), the Columbus Dispatch and the Austin American-Statesman. She blogs at