COVID puts new twist on age-old American battle over voting rights | CBC News
Oct 17, 2020 2 mins, 19 secs
presidential election is a modern chapter in an old American struggle over access to the ballot box.

The number of lawsuits over voting rights has exploded this year, with hundreds of cases related to casting ballots during a pandemic, and the president in the thick of it.

There are fights over the deadline for returning mail ballots; the packaging requirements for ballots; the financial donations cities can receive to help process mailed votes; and the number of ballot drop-box locations allowed in each county?

Underlying these fights is the new electoral reality that more Democrats intend to vote by mail during this pandemic, and are fighting in court to make it easier, while the Trump campaign is fighting to make it harder.

That's the opposite of other countries, such as Canada, where a national election is a stand-alone event, with one set of rules for ballot access coast to coast.

A famous recent example is photo ID laws, such as the one in Wisconsin, which may (or may not) have clinched that state for Trump in 2016.

"I was like, 'I know my rights.

I've been doing voter suppression and voter rights for a while,'" she recalled in an interview. ?

But she said another voter, less certain of the law, might have been discouraged from voting and gone home.

The American history of voter suppression is charted in the book One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson.

Then the Voting Rights Act of 1965 set federal standards that restored ballot access — but, as the book describes, southern election authorities responded with new tactics.

"They … soak the new laws in racially neutral justifications — such as administrative efficiency or fiscal responsibility — to cover the discriminatory intent.

The founder of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which crafted voter suppression laws that have spread through the U.S.

A Supreme Court decision in 2013 stripped down the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates to new laws affecting the vote.

These laws have taken different forms:.

In its ruling, the court said North Carolina lawmakers had targeted Black voters with near surgical precision.

For example, one expert on how election law affects voter behaviour, Michael Hanmer at the University of Maryland, cited different research that concludes that strict voter ID laws can trigger a backlash effect, encouraging people to organize.

The University of Wisconsin's Barry Burden, who specializes in the effect of election law on vote results, said he fears ballot access problems will be worse this year.

The University of Georgia specialist on ballot access laws says states are actually expanding voting options.

There are now weeks of advance in-person voting in most states; automatic registration in numerous states; and vote by mail is widespread, despite court fights over the rules.


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