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The Right to Vote
"I have said this before, and I will say it again: the vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy." - John Lewis, June 2019.
Important Works at the Law Library
Symposium, The Uncertain Future of Felon Disenfranchisement
Felons represent a large majority of disenfranchised adult Americans, with a significant proportion remaining unable to vote even after completing the entirety of their sentences. As voter eligibility requirements become an increasingly contested partisan battlefield, the fate of these disenfranchised individuals has become increasingly unclear. With this backdrop in mind, we consider recent developments in felon disenfranchisement, the prospects for future legislative action, and the legal arguments that litigants might employ to challenge the practice. In so doing, we exploit newly collected polling data to determine (1) whether Americans are ready to end felon disenfranchisement, and (2) under what circumstances they believe felon disenfranchisement constitutes excessive punishment. Examining these results, we conclude that the prospects for an immediate end to felon disenfranchisement are limited and that a categorical challenge to disenfranchisement under the Eighth Amendment would be doomed to fail. However, our results do suggest that a limited set of “gross disproportionality” challenges could plausibly succeed in states with lifetime disenfranchisement laws. We finish by discussing the disparate impact of disenfranchisement laws on African-Americans and consider the prospects for challenging these laws under the Voting Rights Act.
Echoes of Slavery II: How Slavery's Legacy Distorts Democracy
This Essay describes some of the principal legacies of slavery in our electoral law and their major effects on the most recent presidential election. First, I discuss why the Constitution itself is properly considered a proslavery document. One of the proslavery features of the Constitution is the electoral college, enacted as a way to protect the interests of slave owners. Next, I discuss two aspects of state control over voter qualifications that had a major restrictive impact on the electorate: ostensibly neutral efforts like voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement laws.
Criminalizing Voter Suppression: The Necessity of Restoring Legitimacy in Federal Elections and Reversing Disillusionment in Minority Communities
This Comment explores the existing legal framework for remedying voter suppression in recent election campaigns. Part I summarizes the history of voter suppression in America and how it has evolved from physical violence and legalistic barriers into more subversive forms of disenfranchisement that undermine the legitimacy of elections. Instead of the overt forms of discrimination that persisted through much of America's history, politicians now often rely upon disinformation campaigns, scare tactics in the form of “ballot security programs, and law enforcement methods to coerce and manipulate citizens' voting behaviors.
A New Kind of Voter Suppression in Modern Elections
Subtly, but powerfully, Husted v A. Philip Randolph Inst. confirms the need for the federal courts to take seriously the threat of intentional voter suppression. Unfortunately, the decision also confirms just how difficult it will be, for the foreseeable future, to convince them to do it. In the guise of a bloodless disquisition on statutory interpretation, Husted underscores the Supreme Court's willingness to use its limited institutional resources and massive institutional power not to protect voters, but instead to aid and abet a rollback of voting rights.
Colorblind Injustice by
Challenging recent trends both in historical scholarship and in Supreme Court decisions on civil rights, J. Morgan Kousser criticizes the Court's "postmodern equal protection" and demonstrates that legislative and judicial history still matter for public policy. Offering an original interpretation of the failure of the First Reconstruction (after the Civil War) by comparing it with the relative success of the Second (after World War II), Kousser argues that institutions and institutional rules--not customs, ideas, attitudes, culture, or individual behavior--have been the primary forces shaping American race relations throughout the country's history. Using detailed case studies of redistricting decisions and the tailoring of electoral laws from Los Angeles to the Deep South, he documents how such rules were designed to discriminate against African Americans and Latinos. Kousser contends that far from being colorblind, Shaw v. Reno (1993) and subsequent "racial gerrymandering" decisions of the Supreme Court are intensely color-conscious. Far from being conservative, he argues, the five majority justices and their academic supporters are unreconstructed radicals who twist history and ignore current realities. A more balanced view of that history, he insists, dictates a reversal of Shaw and a return to the promise of both Reconstructions.
Call Number: JK1924 .K681999
Publication Date: 1999
Quiet Revolution in the South by
This work is the first systematic attempt to measure the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, commonly regarded as the most effective civil rights legislation of the century. Marshaling a wealth of detailed evidence, the contributors to this volume show how blacks and Mexican Americans in the South, along with the Justice Department, have used the act and the U.S. Constitution to overcome the resistance of white officials to minority mobilization. The book tells the story of the black struggle for equal political participation in eight core southern states from the end of the Civil War to the 1980s--with special emphasis on the period since 1965. The contributors use a variety of quantitative methods to show how the act dramatically increased black registration and black and Mexican-American office holding. They also explain modern voting rights law as it pertains to minority citizens, discussing important legal cases and giving numerous examples of how the law is applied. Destined to become a standard source of information on the history of the Voting Rights Act, Quiet Revolution in the South has implications for the controversies that are sure to continue over the direction in which the voting rights of American ethnic minorities have evolved since the 1960s.
Call Number: JK 1929 .A2 Q54 1994
Publication Date: 1994
We the People - The Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court by
Several of the most divisive moral conflicts that have beset Americans in the period since World War II have been transmuted into constitutional conflicts and resolved as such. In his new book, eminent legal scholar Michael Perry evaluates the grave charge that the modern Supreme Court hasengineered a "judicial usurpation of politics." In particular, Perry inquires which of several major Fourteenth Amendment conflicts--over race segregation, race-based affirmative action, sex-based discrimination, homosexuality, abortion, and physician-assisted suicide--have been resolved as theyshould have been. He lays the necessary groundwork for his inquiry by addressing questions of both constitutional theory and constitutional history. A clear-eyed examination of some of the perennial controversies in American life, We the People is a major contribution to modern constitutionalstudies.
Call Number: KF 4558 14th .P47 1999
Publication Date: 1999
The Voting Rights War by
The Voting Rights War tells the story of the courageous struggle to achieve voting equality through more than one hundred years of work by the NAACP at the Supreme Court. Readers take the journey for voting rights from slavery to the Plessy v. Ferguson case that legalized segregation in 1896 through today's conﬂicts around voter suppression. The NAACP brought important cases to the Supreme Court that challenged obstacles to voting: grandfather clauses, all-White primaries, literacy tests, gerrymandering, vote dilution, felony disenfranchisement, and photo identiﬁcation laws. This book highlights the challenges facing American voters, especially African Americans, the brave work of NAACP members, and the often contentious relationship between the NAACP and the Supreme Court. This book shows the human price paid for the right to vote and the intellectual stamina needed for each legal battle. The Voting Rights War follows conﬂicts on the ground and in the courtroom, from post-slavery voting rights and the formation of the NAACP to its ongoing work to gain a basic right guaranteed to every citizen. Whether through litigation, lobbying, or protest, the NAACP continues to play an unprecedented role in the battle for voting equality in America, ﬁghting against prison gerrymandering, racial redistricting, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and more. The Voting Rights War highlights the NAACP's powerful contribution and legacy.
Call Number: JK 1924 .B76 2016
Publication Date: 2017-11-16
Blackball is Darryl Pinckney's meditation on a century and a half of black participation in U.S. electoral politics. In this combination of memoir, historical narrative, and contemporary political and social analysis, he investigates the struggle for black voting rights from Reconstruction through the civil rights movement, leading up to the election of Barack Obama as president. Interspersed through the historical narrative are Pinckney's own memories of growing up during the civil rights era, his unsure grasp of the events he saw on television or heard discussed, and the reactions of his parents to the social changes that were taking place at the time and later to Obama's election. He concludes with an examination of the current state of electoral politics, the place of blacks in the Democratic coalition, and the ongoing efforts by Republicans to suppress the black vote, with particular attention to the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and what it may mean for the political influence of black voters in future elections.
Call Number: JK1924 .P65 2014
Publication Date: 2014
One Person, No Vote by
PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award Finalist, Longlisted for the National Book Award Best Books of the Year--Washington Post, Boston Globe, NPR, Bustle, NYPL From the award-winning, NYT bestselling author of White Rage, the startling--and timely--history of voter suppression in America, with a foreword by Senator Dick Durbin, now with a new afterword by the author. In her New York Times bestseller White Rage, Carol Anderson laid bare an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded black progress in America, from 1865 to our combustible present. With One Person, No Vote, she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice. Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. In a powerful new afterword, she examines the repercussions of the 2018 midterm elections. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans.
Call Number: JK1924 .A54 2018
Publication Date: 2019-09-17
Exercising the Franchise
NIU Huskies Vote
Northern Illinois University is committed to developing active, engaged and informed citizens who become global leaders who work to build a better society. As such, the university is proud to participate for the first time in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, a program that seeks to enhance student involvement in voter education, registration and mobilization.
2020 U.S. Census
It's Not Too Late: You can still complete the census today.
Register to Vote
Takes Two (2) Minutes to Register
America Votes! by
Updated and expanded to include the most current issues in this area, America Votes Second Edition provides key information and important perspectives on election law questions which the courts are currently addressing or about to address. The chapters run the gamut from nuts-and-bolts questions about running elections (what safeguards should jurisdictions put in place to make sure that the vote totals generated by vote-counting machines are accurate?) to larger questions about the best methods for democratic governance (should states be allowed to band together and appoint presidential electors in line with the winner of the national popular vote?). Even questions such as how a third party or independent candidate should be able to gain access to the ballot raise important technical and philosophical questions. Many chapters in this book discuss both the requirements for compliance with the Voting Rights Act (including its protections for racial, ethnic and language minorities) as well as the wisdom and logic of those provisions. The Act raises complex issues of both statistical nuance and democratic theory. A timely resource for lawyers, professors, election officials, and state and local government election administrators and poll workers, America Votes Second Edition provides a snapshot of key election and voting rights issues from the perspective of practitioners highly experienced in a wide variety of areas including redistricting, Voting Rights Act, registration, ballot access, reform measures, and much more.
Call Number: KF 4886 .A86 2012
Publication Date: 2012
Election Law in a Nutshell by
Election law is a dynamic and quickly growing field that has garnered enormous public interest. It is a subject of great practical importance to lawyers and law students, with increasing litigation and several important decisions from the Supreme Court in recent years. Tokaji's Election Law in a Nutshell provides a succinct and thorough description of the law governing voting rights, elections, and the political process in the United States. The topics addressed include the fundamental right to vote, gerrymandering, minority voting rights, ballot access, voter identification, recounts, direct democracy, and campaign finance. The Nutshell covers the constitutional law in these areas, including rights of free speech and equal protection, as well as the Voting Rights Act and other essential statutes. It addresses Shelby County v. Holder and other cases from the 2012-13 Supreme Court Term.
Call Number: KF 4886 .T532 2013
Publication Date: 2013
Recent Court Cases
Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013).
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.
North Carolina State Conference of NAACP v. McCrory, 831 F.3d 204 (4th Cir. 2016), cert denied, 137 S.Ct. 1399 (2017).
Background: United States and various individuals, churches, and civil rights organizations brought actions against State of North Carolina and various state officials, challenging several provisions of omnibus election reform law as violative of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and the Voting Rights Act (VRA). After actions were consolidated, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, Thomas D. Schroeder, J., 997 F.Supp.2d 322, denied plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals, Wynn, Circuit Judge, 769 F.3d 224, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. Following a bench trial, the District Court, 2016 WL 1650774, held that the election reform law did not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments or the VRA. Plaintiffs appealed.
Gill v. Whitford, 585 U.S. ___ (2018).
Democratic voters filed § 1983 action against members of Wisconsin Elections Commission, claiming that state legislative redistricting plan drafted and enacted by Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature was unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that systematically diluted voting strength of Democratic voters statewide based on their political beliefs, in violation of Equal Protection Clause and First Amendment rights of association and free speech, by two gerrymandering techniques known as “cracking,” or dividing party's supporters among multiple districts so they fell short of majority in each one, and “packing,” or concentrating one party's backers in a few districts that they won by overwhelming margins. After trial before a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Ripple, Circuit Judge, sitting by designation, 218 F.Supp.3d 837, judgment was entered for plaintiffs, an injunction was entered, 2017 WL 383360, and plaintiffs' motion to amend the judgment was granted, 2017 WL 2623104. Consideration of jurisdiction for direct appeal was postponed by the Supreme Court, and the judgment was stayed
League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth (of Pennsylvania), 178 A.3d 737 (Pa. 2018).
Background: Voters brought action challenging congressional redistricting plan and applied to Supreme Court for extraordinary relief. The Supreme Court granted application, assumed plenary jurisdiction, and remanded for trial so as to create evidentiary record. Following bench trial, the Commonwealth Court, No. 261 MD 2017, P. Kevin Brobson, J., entered recommended findings of fact and conclusions.
Legal Organizations Protecting Voting Rights
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Through coordinated and integrated programs of litigation, voter protection, advocacy, and education, the Voting Rights Project has had a tremendous positive impact on communities of color, low-income communities, youth, people with disabilities, and other traditionally disenfranchised populations.
Brennan Center for Justice
List of organizations protecting voting rights in several states.
American Civil Liberties Union
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest. The ACLU works to protect and expand Americansʼ freedom to vote
Gerrymandering and Disenfranchisement
airVote has a proven record since 1992 as a nonpartisan trailblazer that advances and wins electoral reforms at the local, state, and national level through strategic research, communications and collaboration. Today we are the driving force behind advancing ranked choice voting and fair representation in multi-winner legislative districts that will open up our elections to better choices, fairer representation and more civil campaigns.
American Civil Liberties Union
The ACLU works to ensure that redistricting takes place in a fair way that accounts for the size of a district’s population and its racial and ethnic diversity.
In America, elections are supposed to reflect the will of the people, not politicians. We all want our voices to be heard in determining the future of our families and communities. We are fighting for a census in which every person is counted and a process for drawing district boundaries that puts our communities, and not the needs of politicians, first.
Brennan Center for Justice
Voters are supposed to choose candidates. But when lawmakers draw district lines to entrench one party’s political power, some votes count more than others. The Brennan Center's solutions: independent redistricting commissions in every state and legal protections against extreme gerrymandering.
nstead of voters choosing politicians, it's the other way around – politicians are choosing their voters. They do it by gerrymandering voting districts to guarantee their own re-election. That's corruption at the core of our political process.
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