Voting Rights Act

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A brief recap: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was put into place to stop voting practices which discriminated against African Americans including poll taxes, “literacy tests” (graded at the discretion of the local polling official) and having voting sites at inaccessible or hostile locations.

The VRA was a historic and amazing accomplishment in a society badly wounded by institutionalized racial inequality, a society which has mended somewhat over time, but is not yet healed.

Most of the Act deals generally with ensuring the equal right to vote of  citizens without regard to race or color. Section 4 and 5 dealt with the identification of and special requirements of places where discriminatory voting policies have previously been enacted. Among the requirements was that places designated in Section 4(b) had to ask for permission to change voting practices according to Section 5.

On Tuesday, June 25th, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that section 4(b) of the VRA is unconstitutional, until and unless Congress rewrites section 4(b) to be dependent on newer data, which is unlikely without serious pressure applied by constituents. The result is that Section 5 has become invalid and places which have historically created obstacles to minorities trying to vote will be able to do so again by changing voting practices- create tests or voting requirements, change polling places, etc- without asking for permission of  the Justice Department.

Local governments will be able to require  specific IDs which have to be purchased, and will be able to designate hard to get to or historically “whites only” country clubs as the polling places. And yes, some of these things may run afoul of other sections of the VRA, but without the need to get approval ahead of time, it may mean that large scale disenfranchisement will occur before an appeal is heard, and long before a ruling.

Despite proposed laws even in the last year which were rejected and “would have made it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of minority voters to cast ballots*” there are those who say that Section 5 is now unnecessary.

I disagree. Section 5 is necessary. The coverage map should be changed to make it respond to current conditions, which may have worsened in some unprotected areas, but perhaps a small change to Section 4(b) would suffice.

From this:

(b) The provisions of subsection (a) shall apply in any State or in any political subdivision of a state which (1) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1964, any test or device, and with respect to which (2) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 percentum of the persons of voting age residing therein were registered on November 1, 1964, or that less than 50 percentum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November 1964.

To this:

(b) The provisions of subsection (a) shall apply in any State or in any political subdivision of a state which (1) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1st of the second to last Presidential Election Year, any test or device, and with respect to which (2) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 percentum of the persons of voting age residing therein were registered on November 1st of the second to last Presidential Election Year, or that less than 50 percentum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November of the second to last Presidential Election Year.

This would ensure that the areas thus covered would be those which recently had issues with no future need to revise to a specific date. Whether or not this solution appeals to you, Congress should act to protect the voting rights of all citizens.

Please remind them of this fact. (You can find your Senate and House Representatives here and here.)

*Brennan Center for Justice

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