A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H.
Photo by David Goldman/AP

The Voting Rights Caucus gets to work

The list of caucuses in Congress isn’t short. These officially recognized groups of lawmakers, who get together in pursuit of a common agenda, include names that are probably familiar to many Americans – the Congressional Black Caucus, for example – but there are plenty that are far more obscure. Before this morning, for example, I’d never heard of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus or the Congressional Explosive Ordnance Disposal Caucus, both of which evidently exist.
 
Up until yesterday, however, there was no Voting Rights Caucus. Yesterday, as the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth reported, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) changed that.
“The Supreme Court 2013 ruling that gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act set in motion what many feared: the subjection of minorities, seniors, and low-income Americans to unfair, punitive barriers preventing them from exercising their most basic right as American citizens,” Veasey said by email.
 
In June, caucus members plan to introduce a bill, the Poll Tax Prohibition Act, which would block identification requirements that result in voters bearing an “associated cost,” such as acquiring a birth certificate or incurring travel costs.
The caucus appears to already have 50 members, and though the list doesn’t identify lawmakers by party, a quick review suggests all 50 are Democrats.
 
“It is a shame that in 2016 we still need a caucus,” Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who will co-chair the new caucus, told Roll Call.
 
It’s an important point. A caucus committed to protecting and expanding voting right may seem woefully overdue, but the truth is, the right’s organized voter-suppression campaign is fairly new. In the modern era, there was no national effort to gut the franchise – the Voting Rights Act used to enjoy broad, bipartisan support until conservatives on the Supreme Court took a hatchet to it – so the need for a Voting Rights Caucus didn’t exist.
 
That’s obviously changed in recent years.
 
As for Veasey, who’ll help lead the new caucus, his name may sound familiar for a reason: he’s the plaintiff in the high-profile legal challenge to Texas’ onerous voter-ID laws. MSNBC’s Zach Roth reported yesterday on an important court hearing.
Since Texas’ strict voter ID law went into effect in 2013, the stories of voters disenfranchised by the law have come thick and fast: A 70-year-old African-American woman who doesn’t drive and wasn’t told about the ID law when she registered to vote after moving to Dallas from out of state. A Houston student who needed to assemble a long list of documents to prove his residency. An African-American man who has never left Austin and was denied a state ID because his birth certificate lists his mother’s name. An elderly woman who couldn’t afford the $42 to get a birth certificate from her native Mississippi and without which she couldn’t get ID. An estimated 600,000 registered Texas voters – and around 1.2 million eligible voters – don’t have the ID required under the law.
 
On Tuesday, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments in the ongoing challenge to the ID measure, which remains in effect despite three different federal court decisions determining that it discriminates against racial minorities.
The name of the case is Veasey v. Abbott. The Star-Telegram added yesterday, “Veasey and opponents of the ID law asked the Supreme Court to intervene before the November elections. The court said that if the 5th Circuit did not rule by July 20, the plaintiffs could appeal to the Supreme Court.”
 
 
 

Texas, Voter Id and Voting Rights

The Voting Rights Caucus gets to work