Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act

  • November 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The evolution of the nation’s democratic process has been arduous, tragic and bloody. And the process which still excludes too many remains a work in progress.  

    It took a Civil War, constitutional amendments and eradication of Jim Crow for African Americans to be able to participate in democracy. But dogged bigots still worked on ways to keep blacks from the polls. The Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965, was a step by the federal government to drag recalcitrant states into line and stop harassment and oppression of African Americans at the polls. We now have several states with long, tawdry histories of discriminating against minorities at the polls, fighting to gut a major enforcement provision of the VRA. (Some of those state officials, in Alabama, for instance argue that discrimination at the polls does not exist anymore and therefore Section 5 of the VRA needs to be dumped. Congress, however, has found ample evidence that discrimination against minorities at the polls is not a thing of the past.)

    It wasn’t until 1920 when women gained the right to vote via a constitutional amendment. In summer 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified after a close vote in the Tennessee legislature. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of Sex,” it reads. And the ratification of the 19th Amendment didn’t happen overnight; it was nearly a 70-year work in progress.   

    Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan notes a “quick and comprehensive lesson” on voting rights, linking to a video, “Democracy Distilled: Examining the Evolution of our Nation’s Voting Rights.”

    The video, less than 4 minutes, notes, “When our nation was founded, voting rights were anything but equal. The freedoms we have today represent two centuries of successes and failures made by individuals constantly battling to make their voices heard.” Watch it here, or below the jump.

    The “battle” for voting rights though is one that we will likely drag on. The Supreme Court has given corporations greater power drown out individual voices and there remain too many state efforts to make voting difficult.

  • August 17, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Earlier in the week the rightwing push for new restrictions on voting received support of a Pennsylvania state court judge, who failed to see how the state’s strict voter ID law could keep people from the polls. But the effort in Florida to curtail voting opportunities, also led by conservative policymakers, found resistance late yesterday from a federal court in D.C. that concluded the state’s measure to limit earlier voting opportunities disproportionally targeted African-Americans.

    Like a string of other statehouses, mostly controlled by Republicans, Florida lawmakers implemented an overhaul of voting procedures in the state, which included rigid voter ID requirements, an attempt to hamper voter registration drives and limitations on early voting opportunities. Fla. Gov. Rick Scott has also urged county officials to purge voter rolls. The Department of Justice and several civil liberties groups have challenged the efforts to restrict voting, and five counties in Florida must get pre-clearance from the DOJ or a federal court before making changes to voting procedures. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits several states and localities with histories of voter discrimination from altering voting procedures without federal pre-clearance.

    The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled late Thursday that curtailing early voting opportunities in Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties would have a discriminatory impact on black voters.

    The three-judge panel concluded, in part, that the “state has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.” The panel added that restricting early-voting is “analogous to closing polling places in disproportionately African-American precincts.”  

    Ryan P. Haygood, director of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the group’s challenging Florida’s restrictions on voting said in a statement regarding the litigation that implementation of the measures “would be devastating for Black and other minority voters in the state.”

  • January 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    During yesterday’s oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court over legal challenges to recently redrawn electoral maps, the justices, according to Adam Liptak, appeared “frustrated” as they grappled with how to resolve the matter, which could have a major impact on which party controls the House of Representatives.

    “The justices,” Liptak, The New York Times Supreme Court correspondent, wrote, “in essence must choose between two sets of electoral maps, or at least tell lower courts how to do so. The maps concern the two houses of the Texas Legislature and the House of Representatives.”

    Prompted by the 2010 census – which reported that Texas gained more than 4 million new residents, most of them Latinos – the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature created new electoral maps that public interest groups criticized as failing to reflect minority population growth. Texas, because of its history of discrimination against minority voters, is one of the states that must get “preclearance,” pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, from the Department of Justice or a federal court before any electoral changes can take effect. While Texas officials sought preclearance from a federal court in Washington, a federal court in San Antonio created its own electoral maps as a substitute, which state officials challenged. That three-judge court in San Antonio found that the Legislature’s redistricting sharply reduced the number of minority voting opportunities.

    During oral argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested the Texas Legislature’s maps could not be used in the state’s primaries, because the maps had not been approved pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

    “I don’t see how we can give deference to an enacted new map,” she said, “if Section 5 says don’t give it effect until it’s been precleared.”