Kincart: Another Blow to the Voting Rights Act Should Spark Worry


Cyan Larson

(Graphic by Cyan Larson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sydney Kincart, Print Chief, Opinion Writer


If you know me, you know that I love Election Day. I wanted nothing more than to register to vote on my 18th birthday. I keep my “I Voted” sticker from my first election in my journal.

That said, the Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee on July 1 devastated me. The court’s three liberal members dissented in a 6-3 decision. This case was the first time that the court considered how an important piece of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 applies to restrictions impacting people of color.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee shows blatant disregard for racial discrimination, and will have implications nationally and state-wide.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act serves as an “enforcement mechanism for the 15th Amendment’s guarantee that the right to vote cannot be abridged ‘on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’” Even if the intent to discriminate isn’t proven, Section 2 holds that a voting process resulting in the “abridgement” of voting rights based on the aforementioned factors is illegal. Redistricting cases mostly utilize Section 2 to determine whether voting maps weaken the power of minority groups.

Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee focused on two Arizona laws. One law banned the collection of absentee ballots by anyone other than a relative or caregiver. The other requires election officials to throw out ballots cast in the incorrect precinct. This decision doesn’t announce standards for lower courts to apply in voting restriction cases. Instead, it lays out five guideposts.

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that “mere inconvenience cannot be enough.” Thus, the restriction posed in the law must be considerable. Second, the restrictions should have a long or widespread use in the United States. Third, the size and scope of the law’s impact on racial and ethnic groups needs to be weighed. Fourth and fifth, all ways to vote must be considered, as well as the state’s reason for the law.

This decision affects the entire country. It asks us to weigh the claims of voters over the interests of states, with one party always being disadvantaged. It also asks which voting burdens are acceptable under the law’s commitment to equal opportunity.

Instead of asking how to best protect voters of color from the state, this decision signals that voter fraud threatens American democracy more than racial discrimination. Because of this implication, the Supreme Court seems to overlook racial discrimination.

We must recognize the forms in which racial discrimination manifests in voting because of its clear history in the U.S. The Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision will impact the Department of Justice’s suit against Georgia, which argues that the state’s new voting law intends to restrict ballot access to Black voters.

More specifically, this Supreme Court ruling could directly affect Utah — this is not abstract and irrelevant. In 2016, the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Utah filed a suit against San Juan County, known as Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission v. San Juan County et al.

This suit resulted from the county’s 2014 decision to close all polling places on the Navajo Nation falling within the county and to use a mail-only voting system. The Navajo Nation relies heavily on in-person voting because many residents require language assistance for non-English readers.

This specific case reached a positive settlement agreement and the Court keeps jurisdiction over the case in order to enforce the agreement going forward. But, the outcome of this case could perhaps be different given the decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.

Voter suppression laws, like those focused on in Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission v. San Juan County et al, don’t only occur in states like Arizona and Georgia. They exist in Utah and this ruling affects them.

We shouldn’t ignore the implications of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. We must recognize how this decision hurts racial, ethnic and linguistic minorities along with the message it sends about the values of our electoral system. This decision greatly disappointed me, and it hurts me to see voting, arguably one of my favorite actions, grow restricted.

But this decision affects everyone — not just me. As the Voting Rights Act continues to lose power, it grows more difficult to vote. This puts our ability to maintain a democracy on the line — and that’s a scary thought.


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