Still Racist After All These Years

Back when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it recognized that opposition to those rights for black people was so deeply entrenched in some parts of the country that it decreed that before certain states, counties, and towns could change any of their major voting laws, they first had to receive approval for such changes from the U.S. Justice Department, which was given the authority to veto such proposals if it thought they would limit access to the polls.  Congress has reauthorized the law on numerous occasions, most recently in 2006.

That was a pretty good solution to a problem fifty years ago, but surely things are better in those places now, right?  At least, enough so that maybe it would be appropriate, finally, to eliminate the unusual restraints Congress placed on selected parts of the country.

The people who run Shelby County, Alabama certainly think so, and they sued for exactly that:  the freedom to change their own voting laws without any interference from the federal gov’mint.  Their challenge is now under consideration by the policy enforcement arm of the Republican Party, formerly known as the Supreme Court of the United States.

But while this case awaits official review, there are troubling signs that maybe it’s not quite time to loosen the chains on those restraints just yet.

This unusual congressional directive covers parts of North Carolina, a true part of the deep South.  According to the magazine The American Prospect, North Carolina has implemented a number of changes over the past decade to liberalize voting laws, and these measures have inspired a significant increase in the state’s voter turnout.  Among other improvements, the state added early voting, increased its number of polling places, and introduced same-day voter registration.  But when Republicans took control of the state legislature in 2010 they quickly passed  a strict voter ID law, which the state’s Democratic governor just as quickly vetoed.

Last November, Republicans won the governor’s mansion in North Carolina for the first time in twenty-eight years and also secured a super-majority in both chambers of the state’s legislature.  According to The American Prospect article “What we lost in 2012,”

Voter ID, in some form, is now sure to pass.  The day after the election, Republican lawmakers were guaranteeing it.  They plan to roll back some of the state’s liberal voting laws as well.

So maybe, just maybe, like a teenager whose curfew has just been extended from ten o’clock to eleven and who comes through the door at 11:15 the first night under the new rules, North Carolina and the other areas that were placed under special restraints because of their long history of abuse aren’t quite ready for the new responsibilities they now seek.  Maybe it would be in the best interests of the residents of those states, and the entire country, for the Justice Department to continue keeping a close parental eye on them for another ten, twenty, or fifty years.

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