The Times West Virginian

June 28, 2013

Don’t count on this Congress to address issue on voting rights

Times West Virginian

— In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Before then-President George W. Bush signed the bill into law, the vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.

Across party lines, the sentiment was that Congress needed to continue to preserve the rights of minority, poor and elderly voters in states with a long history of civil rights violations. In order to change voting laws in these states, commissions had to get approval from the Department of Justice.

Blood was shed by those who dared to support voters’ rights prior to the act becoming law in 1965. It is widely considered a landmark piece of legislation in the civil rights movement, if not the most important law passed during the movement for equality.

And earlier this week, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the act, citing that it was no longer needed, and essentially putting it in the position of being eliminated altogether.

The provision struck down by the court was the map that defines what states, cities and counties must get federal approval before making any changes to voting laws. The law requires the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia as well as 12 cities and 57 counties in other states to get federal approval for changes to voter laws in order to protect the right to vote.

It’s not as if the law hasn’t been effective in making strides toward voting equality in the South. It’s been used more than 1,000 times to strike down potential laws that would have negatively impacted minority votes. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts said as much within his opinion.

“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act,” Roberts wrote. “The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.”

And it’s been effective recently. Just last year, the law was used in Florida and Texas to stop the elimination of early-voting periods, which the federal government said would have made it difficult for hundreds of thousands of minority voters to cast ballots. In all honesty, rules like that don’t just affect voters of color. They impact the elderly and the poorest residents in rural counties, too.

It’s not the law, the 5-4 decision claims, that is at issue. It’s the map that decides which areas should be covered. It’s based on 1972 Census data that’s at issue.

So the court is handing it back to Congress, asking them to redraw the map based on current Census data.

“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

So put it in the hands of the least productive Congress this century. Leave it up to the Congress that cannot even make cuts to a budget, forcing the nation in sequestration and furloughs for critical federal employees. Leave it to the Congress that cannot put the needs of this nation above partisan politics.

Unfortunately, the decision of the court had made the Voting Rights Act of 1965 essentially void. We don’t see this Congress agreeing on which blank map to start from, much less passing with a majority vote what the court has struck down.