Voting rights — South still guilty until proven innocent
March 02, 2013 12:00 AM | 7304 views | 9 9 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Are Georgia and the other Deep South states the same segregated places they were a half century ago, places where racism was overt and “second-class citizenship” was a tragic but basic fact of life for millions? Obviously not, and we’re all the better for it. A big reason — arguably the biggest, in fact — was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Yet even though those days are decades in the rear-view mirror, thankfully never to return, nine Southern states and parts of seven others must obtain preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department under Section 5 of that act for any and every election. That scrutiny was sorely needed back in the days of poll taxes and the like. But it’s not needed any longer.

“It’s very different, 2013, than it was 1964,” said Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens last week. “And it is time for Section 5 to be found unconstitutional, and for Section 2 to be the standard by which all 50 states have to seek fair elections.”

As he also noted, it’s not just elections for candidates that are impacted.

“If a local government wants an election for a park bond, you have to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in an Alabama case that challenges the need for such election preclearance.

The Constitution requires the federal government to treat all states equally under the law, as part of the “equal footing” doctrine. There were valid reasons in 1965 for Congress to treat states differently in order to finally achieve racial justice in the election process. Those reasons now are history.

There are many counties and cities in the South where black registered voters outnumber white ones. And Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina have all seen larger proportions of black residents register to vote than white ones.

There have been thousands of African-Americans elected to political office across the South in the decades since the Act’s passage. People’s views on race have changed so much that blacks have been elected to Congress from majority-white districts (an unthinkable occurrence in 1965), such as Georgia Democrat Sanford Bishop. Blacks have also been elected to statewide office in Georgia, i.e. former state Attorney General Thurbert Baker and state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. It’s easily conceivable that Georgia could elect its first African-American governor or U.S. Senator within the next two to six years.

As Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out during Wednesday’s arguments, Massachusetts now has the worst ratio of white voter turnout-to-black voter turnout in the country. Yet it is not affected by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And which state has the best white vote-to-black voter turnout ratio? Mississippi — which of course is impacted by Section 5.

None of this is to say racial prejudice no longer exists. It does (and from all corners). Yet the implied argument from liberals opposed to changing even a period or comma of the Act is that there has been no racial progress in this country, and especially in the South. The evidence is overwhelming in the other direction, and a good argument can be made that the South in fact has outpaced the rest of the nation on that subject since the 1970s.

As Olens and many others have said, this is 2013, not 1963 or ’64 or ’65. Yet Georgia and the eight other states in question are being treated as they are guilty and must prove their innocence.

Congress could amend the Act to apply Section 5 to all 50 states. But the better outcome would be for the Supreme Court to leave the Act in place, but strike down Section 5 as unconstitutional.
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March 03, 2013
I've been in the south and racism there still exists, and I would say to a certain extent is still rampant. I still remember hearing about how it wasn't a surprise when a black man committed a crime, and about how "those people" need to be jailed. Recently numerous state have enacted ID voting laws which objective studies have shown are focused on disenfranchising poor and black voters. Section 5 poses a threat to voter disenfranchisement. It should be extended, not undone. More importantly than anything I'd like to know one person who was disenfranchised because of section 5, without this person who is it you're trying to defend by pushing for section 5's repeal? It certainly isn't the little guy. Seems to me that it's these same people who look to disenfranchise this little guy with voter id laws.
Michael McCollum
March 02, 2013
Oh, poor you, the victim of your own great success? Hardly! You ignore the almost daily news of racism that comes out of the same sectors that are listed for observation. Sing that set of lies to your hooded mates, I'm not buying it.
March 02, 2013
Didn't Georgia pass a voter ID law to disenfranchise minorities only 5 years ago? Sorry, I think the author is clearly wrong about Federal oversight of elections no longer being necessary. But I would agree that the VRA should be applied equally to all states.
March 02, 2013
A county only has to go 10 years without breaking the federal election laws, and then can be exempted from the law (sect 5).

I'd love to see the affected regions step up and make section 5 obsolete, simply by not violating voting rights. Why is that so hard?
Diane Jarrett
March 02, 2013
I disagree in light of Georgia's legislative and executive decision to require photo identification at the polls. Back in the days of Max Clelland as Sec of State, he found that whole cemeteries had voted in alphabetical order in a county or two. He quietly put the ability to do that again to rest - without endangering the right to vote by the registered, He never again cited voter fraud. But is that not the very reason the GOP led Georgia legislature saw fit to force registered voters who presented their birth certificates upon original registration in their county to now cough up a drivers license or a State authorized ID to actually vote. Where's their proof of voter fraud? I haven't heard them prove a single case. So isn't this faux concern just prejudice raising its ugly head again? It's harder for the elderly who like to go to the polls, and minorities who can't afford cars and use public transportation to need a driver's license. And - oh - don't most of these two groups traditionally vote for a Democrat? Isn't that the GOP motivation? Is that a pervasive example of 'second-class" citizenship?

I haven't even brought up the subject of re-drawing political districts unconstitutionally. The Legislature - according to the US Constitution -- is only supposed to redraw districts due to population shifts every 10 years after each national census. So why has the GOP led legislature redrawn districts every two years since they took over the Legislature? My goodness, look what's come of that -- more GOP Congressmen ...and GOP GA Legislators. Is that racist or just plain ugly politics?

Aren't these good reasons to keep someone -- besides the GOP reflective pool of voters -- on watch over all our voting rights?

But maybe you are correct that all 50 States now need to be covered by the Act.
Phil S.
March 02, 2013
There needs to be some per-approval for the voting laws in all the states. The large number of voter suppression activities in the last couple of years prove the need for this.

Gerrymandering also need to be addressed. It is another form of voter suppression, where a minority of voters can dominate the state governments.
March 02, 2013
"best white vote-to-black voter turnout ratio" - you must have gone to the same honkey high school as George Wallace. "Best white/black", meaning something like 100 whites/50 blacks???? Best you go back to school bro' and get some proper edumcation!!!!
March 02, 2013
Amen brother, we don't have to worry about blacks anymore, they at least speak English! It's those damn Latino's we gotta look out for, all those peace loving Catholics speaking Spanish and standing in line.
Alexander Mac Donald
March 02, 2013
The South was proven guilty long ago, and convicted. It has yet to prove its innocence, nor does it show any interest in doing so. It prefers to spread the poison in the well that has always been its gift to the rest of mankind.
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