Tuesday marks the 48th anniversary of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While until this year the law has for decades protected the voting rights of millions of Americans all across the nation, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision in June struck down Section 4 of the law which set the formula to determine if a city, county, district or state was required under Section 5 to gain preclearance in order to change their respective voting laws.
Even so, all is not lost; the Supreme Court left Section 5 intact, allowing its enforcement to continue provided that an extremely dysfunctional Congress passes legislation setting a new formula to determine the parameters for that enforcement.
Not all republicans oppose the passage of such legislation, most notably House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia who, according to the Associated Press stated, “I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected.” However, there are enough republicans who oppose it to make the fight to reinstate voting justice an extremely difficult one. In the past Republican House Speaker John Boehner has made it quite clear that unless a majority of House Republicans support a given bill, he will not bring that bill up for a vote even if the majority of democrats and republicans together would successfully vote for passage. So far on this specific legislation, Boehner has been silent. Boehner’s refusal to take a stand on the issue strongly suggests that the GOP is unsure if such a republican majority is attainable.
The erroneous and simplistic argument from opponents of the Voting Rights Act is that because more minorities are now voting than in 1965, the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed. However, proponents of such an argument fail to understand that expanded voting is a direct result of continued enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and not, as they would argue, merely an independent progression. Such an argument is like a skydiver deciding to detach his parachute since he is descending at a safe speed due to the presence of that same parachute.
Meanwhile, actions within republican controlled states like North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have proven without a doubt how vital and relevant to today’s society Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act actually is. These three states have been in the news for the attempts of their legislatures with the complicity of their governors to roll back rights of individuals on various issues including voting rights, under the guise of an attempt to combat virtually non-existent voter fraud. Republican governors Pat McCrory of North Carolina, Rick Perry of Texas and Bob McDonnell of Virginia have worked to impede the rights of their citizens in numerous ways, and the Supreme Court’s decision opened the door for yet another freedom for them to deny Americans. Once the decision was announced, Texas immediately enacted a previously passed discriminatory redistricting and voter ID law that had been previously blocked by the federal courts in 2012 for its “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.” Meanwhile further east, North Carolina moved forward on partisan plans to create barriers to voting within the state, in an attempt to silence people from demographics which often vote against republicans. Virginia did not even wait for the Supreme Court ruling; they passed a strict voter ID bill earlier in the year.
These three states are by no means alone in their attempts at voter suppression. Over the past two years, many other states have either enacted similar laws or they are in the process of doing so.
Attorney General Eric Holder is attempting to use Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows for enactment of the preclearance requirement if discrimination is proven, as a bandage for the law, and such a measure may work. However, regardless of whether it works or not, the idea that such a large number of elected officials within the Republican Party would work to undermine voting rights, and by doing so silence the voices of millions of Americans, shows a serious illness within the political system and perhaps within our society which threatens our democratic method of determining government representatives of, by, and for the people.