Tag Archives: voting rights

Rescinding Voting Rights

That wasn’t necessarily the intention – although The Curmudgeon (and others) might reasonably argue otherwise – but that was certainly the result when the Supreme Court in 2013 overturned a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required certain states with a history of infringing on the voting rights of minorities to run any proposed changes in their election laws by the U.S. Justice Department to ensure that those proposed changes weren’t discriminatory.  The Justice Department had long had the authority to reject any such changes it felt were discriminatory and it exercised that authority more than 700 times just between 1982 and 2006.

The very (mostly) southern states that bristled under the Justice Department’s watchful eye for more than 40 years didn’t waste any time getting down to the business of making it harder for poor people, and people of color, to vote, as the November/December 2016 edition of the magazine Mother Jones explained.

After the 5-4 Shelby decision, states passed a torrent of new voting restrictions that overwhelmingly affected minorities. On the day the decision was handed down, Texas announced that the only two forms of state voter identification it would accept were a driver’s license or a gun license—a measure the DOJ had previously blocked. Georgia moved some municipal elections in predominantly minority areas from November to May, depressing turnout by nearly 20 percent in one instance. Alabama implemented a strict voter ID law—and then shut down driver’s license offices in every county where more than 75 percent of voters were African American. Perhaps the most blatant was North Carolina’s omnibus voting law. Passed shortly after the Shelby decision, the law imposed strict ID requirements, limited the registration window, and dramatically cut early voting during times traditionally used by African Americans. 

Just like before, it's 1954 once more

Just like before, it’s 1954 once more

The actions of some of these states have been so outrageous that lower courts have, in a few cases, ignored the Supreme Court’s decision and ruled some of the states’ new policies unconstitutional – even courts in states like North Carolina and Texas.

Think about it:  how bad does a law infringing on voting rights have to be for judges in North Carolina and Texas – Texas! – to throw them out?

Pretty damn bad, but then, that’s what happens when the Supreme Court, led by John Roberts, who has long had his sights set on overturning the protection poor and minority voters enjoyed in southern states – reaches the utterly ridiculous conclusion that racism is gone in the south and it’s time to free southern states to regulate their own elections without federal oversight.

And even with the resistance from a few brave southern courts, it’s probably going to get even worse now that the Justice Department is being led by a man whom Congress rejected for the federal bench 30 years ago because it decided he was too racist to be a judge.

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.