THE BLOG
06/24/2013 01:27 pm ET Updated Aug 24, 2013

'Freeze! Drop Your Ballot!' -- The Potential Chilling Effect of Unregulated State Laws on Voter Rights

In recent years we have seen the resurgence of state voter laws formed under the guise of voter protection, that functionally serve to suppress the growing Latino and African American votes. The United States' Supreme Court struck down one such Arizona law last week in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which required voters to produce documentary proof of citizenship. The Supreme Court held that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 solely required voters to swear and affirm their citizenship on a federal form under penalty of perjury to cast a ballot, and thus preempted Arizona's state law. Although the Arizona state law appeared fair at face value, it served as a pretext to disenfranchise the growing Latino voter population. I had an opportunity to meet Jon Greenbaum this week, an attorney for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and Chief Counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, whom stated that, "The Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. ITCA is a major victory for voters. It affirmed that states cannot unilaterally add their own restrictions, like documentation of citizenship to the federal mail-in voter registration form." Now, the United States Supreme Court must maintain Voting Rights Act (VRA) Section 5 when it rules on the pending Shelby v. Holder case, which requires certain regions within particular states to submit any proposed voting legislation to the Federal government for pre-approval to ensure voter protection, or unregulated voter suppression campaigns will continue to disenfranchise minority and economically disadvantaged voters. The question remains -- Is federal voter protection really necessary to monitor state laws in "post-racial" 2013?

"Freeze. Put your hands in the air! Drop your ballot." The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) knocked on Judy Ann Crumitie's door, guns drawn directly on her African American frame. According to an FBI agent, Judy Ann Crumitie was guilty of committing the crime of helping, "People that ordinarily would not have voted, vote." People like an elderly, bed-ridden and crippled African American woman with a 'pee-bucket' in her bedroom who lacked the financial resources to accommodate her physical condition. "Justice" took the form of an arrest warrant containing four felony charges in Ms. Crumitie's name for violating a newly enacted Florida statute that only allows citizens to receive up to four absentee ballots for unrelated persons at their home. Although cloaked in a guise of equity, Florida statute section 101.62 enacted in 2010 essentially operates as a poll tax. Section 101.62 requires one to have an address to vote; thus, one must have some form of interest in real property. Why did the FBI point a gun at Ms. Crumitie for helping other voters in alleged violation of Section 101.62? For the first time in the history of Madison County, Florida, an African American woman won a local school board election, and the FDLE and the FBI launched a voter suppression campaign culminating in the arrest of nine African Americans. When you wonder where your tax dollars were spent this past year, rest assured that thousands were spent attempting to enforce an unconstitutional state law to prevent a crippled African American woman from voting and returning her to three-fifths of a person.

Our nation has long recognized that every person is entitled to vote regardless of race, creed, gender, or property ownership. In 2013, following two years of malicious prosecution a Florida court ultimately dismissed all four felony charges against Ms. Crumitie after my law firm represented her on a pro bono basis, and the Supreme Court ultimately struck down the Arizona law disenfranchising Latino voters with the involvement of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. If the VRA Section 5 required the Arizona and Florida state laws to meet their approval process prior to their enactment, perhaps my client Judy Ann Crumitie would have been saved a felony arrest, and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona would have been spared litigation expenses. The responsibility to ensure voter protection should not depend on attorneys willing to challenge discriminatory laws; the federal government must ensure equal justice in access to the polls.

In recent years we have seen an unprecedented turn-out in the African American and Latino vote, and the election of our nation's first African American President. We have also witnessed a proportionate rise in newly enacted laws that disenfranchise minority and poor voters eerily reminiscent of the Civil Rights Era; many passed under the guise of voter protection but aimed at voter suppression. As the United States Supreme Court prepares to issue its opinion on the pending Shelby v. Holder case, it must continue the precedent set this week upholding the federal courts' responsibility to protect all citizens' constitutionally protected right to vote. The true inquiry surrounding VRA Section 5 should be whether the resurgence of voter suppression campaigns necessitates its expansion, particularly based upon the continual enactment of laws aimed at disenfranchising voting populations as seen in Florida and Arizona.