Opinion - R.I.P., Voting Rights Act
Because white, southern Republicans have been victims of discrimination for too long
Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court (creators of #DOMAgeddon2013) chopped out the parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required Georgia and 15 other (mostly Southern) states to clear all election and voting changes with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Basically, they wanted to make sure we weren't finding sneaky new ways to limit voting access for minorities. Now that oversight has effectively been removed, Democrats are all freaked out that voter suppression is about to go off the charts, and many Republicans are like, "Uhh, it's about time, because that shit was really hurting our feelings."
Since the ruling, debates have been stirring about the possible implications of the decision, and naturally, everybody has something to say about it.
The glistening hood ornament of Georgia's government, Gov. Nathan Deal, is stoked that our shadiness now can get ignored like everyone else's:
"This just means Georgia will be treated like all those other states," he told the AJC. "If you want to look at abuses, there were abuses in other states that were not subject to Section 5 but unfortunately they didn't get as much play as it would have if it happened in the South."
After the Supreme Court told Section 5 to GTFO, Texas immediately enacted a voter ID law that was previously shot down by a federal appeals court on the grounds that it would put "strict unforgiving burdens on the poor." Rick Perry don't play. How exactly Georgia plans to take advantage of a neutered VRA remains to be seen.
The core argument against the pre-clearance mandate comes down to two points: It makes those 16 states feel shitty about themselves, and having to run all voting changes up the federal ladder is a real pain in the ass.
Let's address this slowly, for those not required to take a literacy test before reading this article. First, in regard to our delicate Southern self-esteem: I think it's safe to say that no one feels happy about things like slavery, segregation, and several centuries of generally being monstrous to black people.
But Southern conservatives merely wanting to not be seen as racist anymore does nothing to remedy the systemic conditions that continue to keep so many minorities at a strong disadvantage across all social and economic levels.
Maybe the formula by which this pre-clearance functions needs to be updated, and maybe more states need to be included, but until we solve those deeply rooted problems, we still need to have protections in place to keep at-risk voters from being further marginalized.
Should Georgia and other Southern states still feel kind of embarrassed that we need a federal babysitter? Yeah, we probably should.
That said, it's easy to understand why so many government officials in the affected states have a problem with required pre-clearance.
Why should it be so much more difficult for some states to change their voting practices than others? Shouldn't everyone be privileged to the same level of ease when doing things they're technically supposed to be allowed to do? Man, doesn't discrimination burn, my Section 4 babies?
The real question: Is protecting each state government's ability to do what it wants more important than protecting the fundamental rights of citizens to participate in the most basic aspect of our democratic process?
To answer that, I hand the mic to civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, D-Atlanta:
"These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights."
- Mic drop* That is the point.
To be fair, are Republicans in these states attempting to exercise a conscious, direct will to fuck over minority voters because they just loathe non-white folks? Probably (maybe) not. What do they want? To stay in power. To be re-elected. So let's say it's not the color of a minority's skin that makes them a target for Republicans, so much as it is the way they tend to vote, which is usually for Democrats.
Now let's connect the dots: There are well-established correlations between race and poverty. Seventy-six percent of impoverished Georgians are black or Hispanic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. People living on lower incomes have less access to transportation and childcare and work shitty jobs that don't provide the luxury of taking off early to go vote.
These are all conditions that make them vulnerable to restrictive voting policies like shorter hours at polling places and the requirement for ID cards.
If the tendency of minorities to vote for Democrats gives Southern Republicans the motive to want to lessen the impact of their vote, and the unsurmounted vestiges of minority disprivilege give Republicans the means to do so, then it's clear that protecting the integrity of minority votes is still just as necessary today as it was in 1965.
Casting a ballot might be a constitutional right, but it's not a human necessity. The poor and minority populations who are most commonly negatively affected have more pressing paninis to press, like trying to feed their families, getting to work, and caring for their kids.
When you start implementing rules and practices that make it even slightly more difficult for already struggling populations to vote, chances are they just won't.
But hey — with enough strategic redistricting, their votes won't carry much weight, anyway.