Guest editorial… Court must not limit voter rights

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The Supreme Court said it will consider eliminating the government’s strongest weapon against racial discrimination at polling places since the 1960s.

The high court said Nov. 9 that it will hear a constitutional challenge to a strict provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, known as “Section 5,” that requires 16 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making any changes in the way they hold elections.

The appeal from Shelby County, Ala., near Birmingham, says state and local governments covered by the law have made significant progress and no longer should be forced to live under oversight from Washington.

The America that elected and re-elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965. Congress unwisely reauthorized a bill that is stuck in a Jim Crow-era time warp. It is unconstitutional.

While it is true that the election and re-election of an African-American as president is a clear indicator that America has changed since the 1960s, it does not mean that the Voting Rights Act should be weakened.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., points out that racial discrimination persists in the county that is challenging the constitutionality of the law.

“In 2006, the city of Calera, which lies within Shelby County, enacted a discriminatory redistricting plan without complying with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, leading to the loss of the city’s sole African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery,” said a statement from LDF. “Because of the Voting Rights Act, however, Calera was required to draw a nondiscriminatory redistricting plan and to conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery regained his seat. Mr. Montgomery is among the community leaders that LDF is representing in this case.”

The 2012 election showed why it is necessary to maintain the Section 5 provision that requires certain local authorities with a history of voter discrimination to obtain pre-approval from the federal government before enacting any laws or regulations that pertain to voting.

In July of this year, Section 5 of the act was successfully invoked on appeal to block a restrictive voter ID law in the state of Texas that could have prevented an estimated 1.5 million people from voting in that state. Section 5 was also used to block similar legislation in Florida and South Carolina.

In the Florida v. United States case, a federal court barred Florida from slashing the number of early voting hours.

On Sunday, the Philadelphia Tribune reported: “A coalition of voting rights advocates—including many of Philadelphia’s state legislators—has called for a state and federal investigation into the fact that the names of many registered voters were missing from poll books Tuesday(Election Day), which they contend resulted in voter suppression.”

“What happened here in Pennsylvania and in other states, Ohio, Florida and in many other states is a national disgrace,” said Babette Josephs, Democratic chair of the state House state government committee. “We’re suppressing the vote.”

The re-election of President Obama shows both how much America has changed and how there are still significant attempts to suppress the vote. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act should remain intact because the problems that it was designed to address still remain.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)

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