Friday, March 08, 2013

Can The South Be Trusted On Voting Rights Yet?

Racial polarization in the 2008 presidential election: A comparison of states covered by Section 5 with the rest of the nation

Having lived in different parts of the South - Virginia, Alabama, Texas and back to Virginia - since early 1970's, the answer to the question posed in the caption of this blog post is, in my opinion, a resounding NO!  The Alabama of 2013 strikes me as more reactionary than the Alabama of 1977 and Texas outside of the large cities seems to be another example of going backward in time.  And then there's Virginia where the Republican Party of Virginia and its Christofascist and Tea Party puppeteers who seem to wan to take Virginia back to circa 1850.  Racism is alive and well in conservative circles and, as it is losing more and more of the sane voter pool, the GOP seeks to disenfranchise as many minority voters as possible to make up the declining numbers of the Christofascist/Tea Party base.   Despite this frightening reality, conservative justices on the U. S. Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed.  A piece in Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball - Sabato and I were classmates at the University of Virginia - looks at why the Voting Rights Act may be needed now more than ever (candidly, here in Virginia GOP efforts to disenfranchise minority voters is a case study in why the Voting Rights Act is still greatly needed).  Here are highlights:

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the latest challenge to what many consider the most important civil rights law of the past century — the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The challenge involves Section 5 of the law, which requires nine states — all but two in the South — to obtain prior approval from the Justice Department before implementing any changes in voting laws, regulations or procedures.

The Voting Rights Act, including Section 5, was last renewed in 2006. At that time, overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate voted to renew the law for 25 years based on extensive evidence of continued attempts to suppress or dilute the votes of racial and ethnic minorities in the states covered by Section 5.

Despite this legislative record, the justice’s questions and comments during last week’s oral arguments suggest that there is a good chance that the court will vote to strike down Section 5. The five conservative justices on the court, including Chief Justice John Roberts, were clearly skeptical about the continued need for federal supervision of the states covered by Section Five. At one point, Roberts asked whether “the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North.”

There is no doubt that old-fashioned racism has greatly diminished over the past 40 years throughout the nation and in the states covered by Section 5. However, there are good reasons to be concerned about how a decision to overturn Section 5 would affect the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities in these states — for reasons that are more political than racial. That’s because regardless of whether white political leaders in these states hold racist views, they have substantial political incentives for engaging in actions to suppress or dilute the minority vote.

[A]nother key difference between these two sets of states is that the covered states are now dominated by the Republican Party. All nine covered states currently have Republican governors and Republican majorities in both chambers of their legislatures. This means that political leaders in these states have a powerful incentive to suppress or dilute the votes of African Americans and other minorities because these groups make up the large majority of the Democratic electoral base in their states. Moreover, as the majority party, they also have the ability to enact laws and regulations to accomplish these goals.

Recent history shows that Republican leaders in the states covered by Section 5 have frequently attempted to suppress or dilute the minority vote through actions such as enacting voter identification laws, changing voting dates, changing poll locations, replacing partisan elections with nonpartisan elections, switching from district-based to at-large elections and changing district boundaries. While such actions have occurred in other states, the evidence collected by Congress in 2006 showed that they occurred much more frequently in the states covered by Section 5. In numerous instances, only the power of the federal government to block such discriminatory laws and regulations has prevented their implementation.

The nonwhite share of the electorate in the states covered by Section 5 is expected to increase over the next few decades. Given the racially polarized pattern of voting in these states, this trend is likely to pose a growing threat to the dominance of the Republican Party in many of them. As a result, the political incentives for Republican leaders to pursue changes in election laws, rules and regulations in order to suppress or dilute minority voting strength will almost certainly increase in the future, making continued federal review of proposed changes crucial in order to ensure fair elections. Far from being outdated, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act may be needed more than ever in the coming decades.

Sadly, the GOP has become a party of open racists, white supremacists and religious fanatics all of whom view blacks and other racial minorities as less than human - a view similar to how they view gays - and whom they would like nothing better than to bar from voting entirely.   It is yet another reason of why I left the GOP long over a decade ago.

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