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Voting Rights Need Protection Now More Than Ever


The Voting Rights Act has been repeatedly renewed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court ever since it became part of the civil rights agenda.  And yet, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, reexamined the law once again.  A provision in the law gives the United States Justice Department the power to review proposed election law changes in several states, mostly in the South, and many other counties and municipalities, where race discrimination with respect to voting has a history of being most flagrant.  A small Texas district challenged this provision claiming that the law unconstitutionally infringed on state powers and was no longer necessary because of changes in voter registration and turnout by racial minorities.

It was argued that the nation’s first black President proved that the law was no longer needed.  The law’s defenders, including the Justice Department in both the Bush and Obama administrations, said minorities still face intimidation and discrimination at the polls.  When the justices of the highest court heard oral arguments back in April, several conservative justices, including Mr. Roberts, suggested that they agreed with the challengers that the historic law that had aided once disenfranchised blacks was no longer needed.  However, when Mr. Roberts announced the court’s ruling, he suggested that a majority might someday be ready to strike down the law.  But for now, the law survives through an apparent compromise among the justices.

This provision in the law was intended to ensure that a local government did not draw new voting district boundaries or enact rules that would negatively impact the votes of blacks or other minorities.  The law allows districts to drop out from under Justice Department review if the districts can show that they have not used any forbidden voting tests for a decade and can show they have engaged in constructive efforts to eliminate intimidation and harassment of voters.  Supposedly, since 1982, only seventeen jurisdictions out of more than twelve thousand have successfully been exempted from the act.  Mr. Roberts said it was unlikely that the legislators intended the exemption provision to have such a limited effect.

While the Supreme Court justices were unanimous in their judgment, Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenting justice who wanted to strike the law from the books outright.  Mr. Thomas said he would find the act unconstitutional because the extensive pattern of discrimination that led the court to uphold the law as a tool to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment protecting the right to vote no longer exists.  It is the opinion of the court that the jurisdictions affected by this law are not currently engaged in any campaign to deny black citizens access to the ballot through intimidation or violence.

However, does anybody remember the fiasco associated with the presidential elections in Florida back in November of 2000?  According to an article by Arianna Huffington named Stealing the Election: Florida’s Ugly Secret, an outrageously large number of African American votes were nullified in Florida.  A detailed analysis of the Florida vote by the Washington Post discovered a staggeringly high percentage of black voters had their ballots rejected.  For instance, up to a third of the ballots cast in Jacksonville’s black precincts were tossed out, four times more than in neighboring white precincts.

Ms. Huffington wrote, “This huge disparity in discarded votes is a reminder that we are indeed two Americas — not just when it comes to education, health care, housing and our vaunted prosperity, but even when it comes to voting. In the precincts of the other America, there were longer lines, less reliable voting machines and less access to technology that instantly identified mismarked ballots and gave voters a second chance. So even when it comes to this most egalitarian of acts, some are more equal than others.”

Florida’s African American community turned out to vote in record numbers, inspired by a push by then Governor Jeb Bush who campaigned on a platform than included the dismantling of affirmative action programs involved that affected university admissions and state contracting.  “We’ll remember in November” was the adopted slogan.  The black community responded by registering new voters in record setting numbers.  But unfortunately, when many newly registered voters showed up at the polls in the precincts with higher black populations, they were not on the rolls and were not allowed to vote.

More affluent precincts were equipped by the election commission with computers that allowed them to tie into the main registration rolls even though it was known that the highest number of new registrants were in African American precincts.  Since election officials knew in advance that the highest number of new registrations to vote were in African American districts, and those districts were not provided with adequate access to county voter rolls, that this was a deliberate act to deny black citizens access to the ballot.

The idea that the right to vote doesn’t need protection because no one tries to deny anyone the right to vote is pure fiction.  The right to vote may not be under threat by blatant acts of intimidation or violence, but it is under threat nevertheless.  To deny people the right to vote through voter manipulation or a lack of adequate voting resources at the booth is an indication that our right to vote is fragile and should be protected at all cost.

Nobody would say that we can take laws that make murder illegal off the books because nobody has been murdered in the past ten years.  Nobody would say that laws against rape are useless because nobody is being raped.  But because we can point to our black President we can throw all the laws that are designed to protect black people from certain elements of the dominant community chomping at the bit to disenfranchise people in the black community.  As a nation we are so quick to believe that racism is a thing of the past that we are ready to ignore or forget blatant acts of racism that happen right before our eyes.

Monday, June 22, 2009 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Clarence Thomas, Life, Racism, Supreme Court, Thoughts

1 Comment »

  1. I guess I don’t even see why the argument was even allowed to get that far. It seems that the voting rights act was enacted, and doesnt seem to disenfranchise anyone by letting all people vote, since being a legally recognized adult that isn’t in prison or dead is pretty much all it takes to register. while I’m a State’s rights kind of guy, I really don’t see how this infringed on any state’s rights.

    On a side note, I somehow disappeared off the voting lists between the 2004 and the 2006 midterm elections. My “provisional ballot” didn’t count for anything more than a learning lesson for the volunteers working the polling station. My wife was on the list, but despite my place of residence, work, and everything else never having changed (with the exception of a few dollars difference in annual earnings) between those two points, I had been removed. I even showed them my voter ID card, my driver’s license, social security card, my security officer id card, my debit card, and 3 credit cards to prove who I was. So my wife got to vote that day in ’06, but i only got to do the dry run!

    I joked to a democrat friend of mine that he probably put the plan of action behind a vast left wing conspiracy to alienate me since I had voted for Bush in the 04 election and the election commissioner was of the democrat party. He of course retorted that after years of a vast right wing conspiracy, they were going tit-for-tat, and I was one of the odd men out! LOL

    Comment by Mike Lovell | Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | Reply

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