Thursday, June 22, 2006
Why Is the Voting Rights Act Still An Issue?
I thought I had fallen into a time warp of some kind. Maybe it was because I read the story pre-coffee, but even the presence of a laptop on my lap was not enough to convince me that it was actually still 2006.
Why? Because the Voting Rights Act is up for debate in the House of Representatives.
A handful of Southern Republicans are trying to amend it so that it takes out the section of the law requiring that nine states (Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Alaska, South Carolina, Virginia, Lousiana, and of course, Mississippi) seek the permission of the Justice Department or a federal judge before changing the voting rules.
"The pre-clearance portions of the Voting Rights Act should apply to all states, or no states," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).
The sad part? He's right. It should apply to all states.
I don't think Georgia has earned a break yet. This is the state that elected a man governor who had accomplished nothing in his life before running except gaining notoriety by beating a black man with an axe handle. And he carried that axe handle with him on the campaign trail. Mississippi has a governor right now that hangs out with the Council of Conservative Citizens. His popularity went up when a picture of him appeared on their website and he refused to ask them to take it down.
Five of the nine states covered under the pre-clearance portions have done nothing to work their way out from under it.
But they're not what makes Westmoreland right. What makes Westmoreland right is that they're not the states where we have problems.
In 2000, Florida seemed to be making up election law on the fly. When they decided to cut felons (Which is their right--- Make no mistake), they also decided to cut people with similar names, people born on the same date, people with similar Social Security numbers, people that had successfully had their voting rights restored, people convicted of misdemeanors, and in at least one notable case, someone whose felony conviction date is still a year in the future (Check #2, Thomas Alvin Cooper, in the scrub list screen capture). The demographic that suffered the most--- Need you ask?
In 2004, Ohio assigned fewer voting machines to black precincts than white ones--- They learned the lesson of Florida--- There were efforts to nullify registrations (35,000 lost their rights through a technique called "caging"), but the biggest part of the effort was making black voters stand in line a lot longer than white voters. The message seemed to be "Yeah, we'll let you vote--- But you're going to have to jump through hoops to get it".
The Voting Rights Act did nothing to stop these states from applying cobbled together, improvised standards to decide who gets to vote and who doesn't.
Both parties want the Voter Rights Act this year. It expires in 2007, but both parties want it as an issue in the midterms. I propose a common sense solution---
Apply the pre-clearance portions to ALL states. Amend the law so that not just these nine have to preclear changes to their election standards. The Fifteenth Amendment guarantees the right to vote--- This is not a state by state issue. Voting law should be universal, federalized standard.
And once you do that, take the "sunset" provision out of the damn law already. Should the voting rights of American citizens really be something that has to be renewed every few years? I can't recall the last time that the right of white Americans to vote was debated in Congress--- It happens every few years to blacks. It's like saying "Let's give this whole black people voting thing a few more years and see if it works out".
It works quite well when no one is interfering with it, thank you. Make it permanent.