A Sept. 27, 2012 file photo shows the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
Voter repression? Yes, it’s still happening.
This past Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to review the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This act — passed to protect African Americans from discrimination — requires nine of the states to get federal approval before passing any new voter legislation.
Seven of the nine states are supporting the case: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas, according to Reuters.
Bert Rein, who is representing the case, wrote in the petition that “things have changed in the South.”
“Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels,” he added.
I disagree. Minority candidates aren’t exactly holding office at “unprecedented levels.” Out of 100 senators, there are two Hispanic Americans, two Asian Americans and no African American or Native American senators. That makes four minority senators in the 112th Congress.
As of 2011, 78% of the country was white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To me, this seems more like a disparity.
But let’s get back to the topic of voting.
Here in Philadelphia, where I go to school, I personally know several students who had to cast provisional ballots due to registration errors. I myself never even received a voter registration card in the mail.
Apparently, the problem was more common than I thought, as 200 students at the University of Pennsylvania and 41,000 voters in Philadelphia who registered late in the season were unable to cast ballots (or were forced to cast provisional ballots) this election, according to an editorial in The Daily Pennsylvanian.
I would like to highlight that, in Pennsylvania, we are required to mail our registration forms almost a month before elections.
Voting problems weren’t exclusive to Pennsylvania. In Arizona — one of the states challenging the Voting Rights Act — anywhere from 150,00 to over 400,000 early and provisional ballots in Maricopa County, and thousands more across the state, were not counted.
These weren’t just isolated incidents. There’s legislation working against a sizeable demographic of voters. According to a pre-election Huffington Post article, the new voter ID laws passed in 17 states had the potential to disenfranchise about a million young, minority voters. Another study reported by Reuters predicted new voting laws enacted in 23 states could disenfranchise 10 million Latino voters.
All of the states challenging the act have some form of ID laws, and several have stricter laws pending.
But I think what bothers me most about this challenge to the Supreme Court is that it seems to assume that we’re living in a post-racial society.
It would take a whole other article to discuss this issue of race, but I’d say, between the lack of minority leaders in government, the current Supreme Court Case challenging affirmative action in universities and the simple fact that many cultural student groups still self-segregate, we’re still pretty polarized.
Some could argue that disenfranchisement isn’t just a “minority” issue. In fact, as a woman, I’m part of the 51% and statistically disenfranchised in both the workplace and government.
I understand the rationale behind these voting laws — proponents want to protect against voting fraud. And in this case, the states involved in the suit feel that the act is discriminating against them.
The issue is that we can’t deal with fraud and keep disenfranchising voters. Tightening restrictions that keep citizens from the polls is unconstitutional and unethical.
What strikes me most about this issue is that the seven states fighting the act are allowed to change voting laws. They just need approval to do so.
So my question is, why are these states so against seeking prior approval? What kinds of laws do they want to pass that they feel the federal government wouldn’t approve of?
Voting is a right for every American citizen. If the South has really changed — as Rein claims — then these seven states should prove it, and stop trying to repeal an act that protected suffrage for millions of Americans.
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