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UK professor explores voting rights, technology in new book and public radio show

Josh Douglas UK Law on October 9, 2019.
Mark Cornelison
University of Kentucky
Josh Douglas is the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law's Ashland-Spears, Inc. Distinguished Research Professor of Law.

Josh Douglas says the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to protect voting rights.

Josh Douglas is a law professor at the University of Kentucky and the host of "Democracy Optimist," a show heard on WFPL focusing on elections and voting rights. Douglas is also the author of "The Court V. The Voters: The Troubling Story of how the Supreme Court has Undermined Voting Rights."

LPM's Bill Burton talked with Douglas about how voting laws have changed over the last five decades, and a few new technologies and initiatives to expand voting access.

Bill Burton: Let's start with "Democracy Optimist." It's a great series delving into voting with the likes of Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams. The next edition of the program is coming this Friday morning at 11 a.m. on WFPL. So can you give us a preview of this episode?

Josh Douglas: Sure. This one should be really interesting. I'm speaking with the CEO of an organization or a company called Voatz that actually does Internet voting. They've used the blockchain to have people vote on their apps. It's actually been used in several jurisdictions.

And then [in] the second half of the episode, I speak with Lauren Kunis, who is with an organization called Vote Riders that helps get IDs to people who don't have them. That, you know, helps them comply with voter ID laws, but actually helps them in all aspects of their lives. So I think this is gonna be really interesting, to learn about different ways elections are being pushed in different directions and what's possible to make things easier.

BB: Your new book, which is being released this week, also delves into similar topics. It's called "The Court V. The Voters" and is focusing on how the Supreme Court is altering voting rights. What is the court doing, with cases like Bush v. Gore and Citizens United?

JD: So, I think the problem is that the court has failed to adequately protect the constitutional right to vote. You know, it used to in the 1960s, where it imposed a strong judicial test to overlook and oversee state voting laws. But now, the court basically defers to state politicians in the election rules that they enact. And those are the very people we should trust the least, because they're most self interested in crafting election rules that can help them stay in power.

So the book looks through a series of cases, you mentioned Bush v. Gore, Citizens United. But also cases that most people have never heard of, but [that] have been very detrimental, in my view, to strong protection for the constitutional right to vote.

BB: Supreme Court votes in a lot of these decisions don't necessarily fall along the lines of what you might consider liberal and conservative divides. Bush v. Gore, for instance, was seven-to-two with some of the the "liberal justices" siding with some of the quote "conservative justices." Does that tell you anything specifically about the Court's decisions?

JD: Well, that's right. I mean, most people think of Bush v. Gore as a five-to-four decision, and part of it was five-to-four in terms of stopping the recount in Florida. But you're right, that it was seven-to-two, with respect to the constitutional harm that the court found. I will say, however, that over the past 10 years or so, we've seen the court be more closely ideologically aligned — and that's also concerning.

I think some of the cases that I talked about from the book from 40 or 50 years ago, you see more of an ideological split or you couldn't tell the ideological lineup of the justices. Today though, we've got a six-to-three conservative court. And I think most voting rights cases, more often than not, will fall on those lines.

BB: Josh Douglas is a professor of law at the University of Kentucky. He is also the host of "Democracy Optimist" that you'll hear this Friday morning at 11 on WFPL. And he's also the author of the brand new book, "The Court V. the Voters." Josh, it was a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much for your time.

JD: Thanks so much for having me. Appreciate it.

This transcript was edited for clarity.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.

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