Voting Rights Act must be restored
Letter to the Editor from Devon Pfeifer of Weston Connecticut
Published in the Connecticut Post Friday, July 5, 2013
[Editorial comment: Shared In Its Entirety except for the removal of ridiculous, self-referential links inserted by CT Post. Large Print used for ease of readership's aging eyes. People died for the Right to Vote.]
The Voting Rights Act, frequently hailed as the single most
effective civil rights legislation, was gutted recently by the Supreme
Court in a 5-4 decision.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts
cited voter registration in Mississippi had grown from 7 percent in
1965 to 76 percent of the African-American population. He shared
additional anecdotal information by citing the fact that Selma, Ala.,
where future Congressman John Lewis
was brutally beaten in 1965, has a black mayor. The chief justice also
wrote "African-American voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout in
five of the six states originally covered by Section 5." Ultimately, the
Supreme Court of the United States
(SCOTUS) tossed the Voting Rights Act back to the polarized Congress,
telling legislators to fix it. Roberts wrote, "Congress must ensure that
the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current
conditions." The decision declared Section 4 unconstitutional because it
was based on old voting data that had not been updated since 1975.
The Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1965. It was enacted
to restore and protect the right to vote as provided in the 14th and
15th Amendments and was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
SCOTUS struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which had
identified nine states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, in addition to counties
and municipalities including Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
These states, counties and municipalities were required under Section
5 (which remains intact, but toothless because of the court's finding
on Section 4) "preclearance" by the Department of Justice or a federal court for any/all changes to election law.
In reference to the case of Selma having a black mayor, Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen
points out: "In the history of voting in Alabama, not a single black
candidate has been able to defeat a white incumbent or win an open seat
in a statewide race. Black office holders in Alabama are confined almost
exclusively to minority districts." He added, "While 40 percent of the
white voting public cast their ballots for a black president nationwide,
only 15 percent of white voters did so in Alabama ... There are still
Alabama legislators who talk openly about suppressing the black vote and
refer to black voters as `aborigines.'"
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, renewed it in 1975 and
in 1982, and adopted a new standard for 1985 that provided a way for
jurisdictions to get out from under Section 4. In 2006, Congress
eliminated the provision for voting examiners. That year Congress held
20 hearings and accumulated 15,000 pages of documents supporting Section
5 of the Voting Rights Act. In 2006, "Congress voted nearly unanimously
to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years. The vote in
the U.S. Senate was 98 to 0 and 390 to 33 in the House of Representatives." -- The Christian Science Monitor.
Between 1999 and 2005, 153 proposed voting changes were withdrawn when the Department of Justice questioned them.
The Voting Rights Act was repeatedly challenged and upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, until this year.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice (and most news sources) the very same day that the SCOTUS decision was handed down Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
said his state would go forward with its plan to redistrict because it
no longer needed federal approval. In addition, Texas would implement a
voter identification law that had been blocked because it did not meet
federal approval. North Carolina announced it would go ahead with a
photo ID requirement for voting and eliminate early voting.
A study in 2011 by Paul Gronke of Reed College and Charles Stewart
of Massachusetts Institute of Technology titled "Early Voting in
Florida" showed that a reduction in the number of early hours for voting
lessened the turnout of black voters.
Teaching Tolerance graphed data from The Brennan Center for Justice
depicting the percentage of people who lack a government-issued photo
ID; the data revealed:
- 11 percent of all citizens lack a government issued photo ID;
- 15 percent of low-income voters lack a government issued photo ID;
- 18 percent of young voters lack a government issued photo ID; and
- 25 percent of African-American voters lack a government issued photo ID.