Way Cleared for More Voter Discrimination

supreme_court_us_2010This week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the 1965 Voters Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to have the Department of Justice approve any changes to their voting laws before enacting them. The states affected included Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as other precincts.

Within hours of the decision six of these states were rushing to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling. The first out of the gate was Texas.

TexasFlagLast year Texas put forward an extremely restrictive voter ID law that would have discriminated against many Black and Latino Americans. An estimated 800,000 voters would not have the necessary identification to vote, and it would be difficult for many of them to produce the required documents to obtain the voter IDs. The Justice Department blocked implementation of the law saying that it “would hinder minority turnout and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.”

The federal court also blocked implementation of a new electoral map for Texas in which the judges found that “ ‘substantial surgery’ had been done to predominantly black districts cutting off representatives’ offices from their strongest fundraising bases.” This new electoral map had been drawn up in secret by white Republican members without notifying their Black and Latino counterparts, and then passed by the Republican majority in the state legislature.

AbbottX235_567B_7Within two hours of the Supreme Court decision, however, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced to the Dallas Morning News that]

With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.

Similar restrictive voter ID laws that had not received Justice Department clearance are now free to be implemented in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Virginia, and plans are being made to rapidly move them forward.

It should be noted that in striking down this provision in the Voter Rights Act, the Supreme Court was not saying that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in America. Its ruling was rather that the list of precincts said in the Act to follow racist policies is now nearly five decades old and needs to be revisited. It is up to Congress to compose this list (just as it did back in 1965), and once done, those states affected will still need to receive Department of Justice approval for changes to their voting procedures.

However, with the present legislative impasse in Congress, it is extremely unlikely that bipartisan agreement will be found for approving a new list of affected precincts in this current session. In the meantime this part of the Voters Rights Act will remain set aside, and states will have a free hand to implement whatever discriminatory voter practices they choose.

Any action by Congress is not likely to take place until well after the 2014 midterm elections. By then the damage will have been done.

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About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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