Monthly Archives: June 2013

Quick notes and links on the Voting Rights Act news

Originally posted on Facebook here.

President Obama[‘s]…election as the nation’s first black president was cited by critics of the law as evidence that it was no longer needed

from the New York Times

Alright, so let’s just pretend for the moment that voting for a person of color is, in fact, evidence of non-racistness. Or maybe you actually believe this (I don’t, but that’s a whole separate thing). If this statement is true, then when Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia voted for President Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, they provided that evidence. Right? Oh wait, no. Of all of those states, the only one that went blue in either election was Virginia – and that’s the one with a long list of cities and counties exempted from the VRA. So, why did this idea get any press at all?

Voting maps for these two elections are available on their Wikipedia pages: 2008 2012

And lest anyone get the idea that this is all party-lined: The 2006 renewal of the VRA? Signed by then-President Bush. Who was, oh yeah, from that covered state, Texas. Who, despite the persona he presented as president (which was elaborated upon for comedic effect as well as to dismiss him instead of engaging the political activity performed under his presidency), is neither ignorant nor simple.

Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the law requiring nine states to submit voting law changes to the federal government for pre-clearance, six are already moving ahead with voter ID laws, some of which had already been rejected as discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.

from PBS.

It’s worth noting that these laws often utilize the fact that people of color are disproportionately low-income. That’s a roundabout way of saying that they are directly classist as well as having an indirect (while significant and intentional) racial impact.

Here’s a thing, though:

Nearly every state — 41 so far — has introduced some kind of restrictive voting legislation since the beginning of last year, and 18 have succeeded in passing laws, some of which could have a direct impact on the 2012 election, according to a recent analysis from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.

“This is almost unprecedented,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, which tracks voting laws and which published the analysis. “We have not seen this number of restrictive voting laws pass probably since the end of the 20th century. Certainly, this is the biggest rollback since the civil-rights era in terms of voting rights.”

from Brennan Center

Which, seriously, if you read any link here read that thing. In case you didn’t know, Oregon’s on that list, having introduced legislation to require proof of citizenship to vote. See also the 2013 version, which has a lot of good news as well in the form of legislation to expand voting rights and accessibility.

I think there’s an issue with saying it’s unconstitutional to require certain jurisdictions to obtain preclearance for particular legislative activity, but I do think reevaluation is necessary. Clearly a bunch of noncovered states are trying to enact the same restrictive laws that states covered by the VRA are trying to push through. This suggests to me that the whole country ought to be require federal preclearance. Hell yeah, it’ll slow things down. Maybe it’ll be an incentive for states to not waste time trying to put through racist and classist legislation? (Yeah, yeah, I know…)

Here’s what I don’t understand: why is it that voting rights which impact federal elections can be determined by state? To clarify, let’s look at Jesse Voter, a Floridian who has a past felony conviction, and Jordan Other-Voter, a Californian with a past felony conviction. Florida voting law effectively disenfranchises Jesse, but Jordan’s able to vote based on California voting law. Jesse is not able to vote for a senator of Florida while Jordan is able to vote for a senator of California. While I may not agree with the specific law, it seems different to me from, say, a presidential election, in which Jesse may vote for a president of the US while Jordan is not able to vote for that same president. Using federal legislation for federal elections would makes voting law that much more complex, but hey, maybe it’d be an incentive for states to not waste time creating additional legislation for state-level elections beyond what is actually necessary? (Again, I know…)

Oh, also, here’s the Myths and Facts about the VRA.

I’m too tired to tie this up well and haven’t had the time to research this further in ways I’d like to, but at least here’s transparency and an invitation. One thing I haven’t had time to do is read a lot of source material in its entirety: the VRA itself or the SCOTUS decision. I also have a limited knowledge about a lot of voting rights legislation itself. So, please, add links, input, whathaveyou. There’s always something more to know.


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