Conservatives and Republicans are waging a war on a key section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), claiming that the South no longer has a problem with discriminating against minority voters. Ari Berman at The Nation reported on the Alabama lawsuit’s claims, “”Section 5′s federalism cost is too great” and that the statute has “accomplished [its] mission.”"
As they prepare to make this argument to the Supreme Court, Virginia Republicans just passed a new voter ID law that disenfranchises minority voters, which destroys the entire basis for their argument.
The essential part of the Republican/conservative argument is that the Section 5 of the VRA is no longer needed because it accomplished its mission. Yes, things in the south are so great for minorities now. No problems down here, ya’ll, nothing to see!
The Civil Rights Organization debunks the myths about Section 5, in particular the argument that it unfairly targets covered jurisdictions:
“Fact: Congress approved Section 5 to prevent the implementation of new discriminatory laws or practices, not to punish for past practices. Section 5 applies to places that have a history of significant discrimination and where ongoing and persistent discrimination continues. Under the “bail-out” provision of the VRA, a jurisdiction can be removed from Section 5 coverage if it shows that it has not engaged in voting discrimination over the past ten years and has complied with the VRA. Recently, eleven jurisdictions in Virginia have done so.” 1
Notice how they use jurisdictions in Virginia as an example of areas that can be removed from Section 5 because at that time, they had not engaged in voter discrimination for ten years? Well, Virginia is about to engage in voter discrimination again (which sort of suggests that the South is not to be trusted when they say all is well).
Virginia Republicans passed a new bill (Senate Bill 719 and House Bill 1337) that would change “acceptable” forms of ID required in order to vote. Things that used to be acceptable like “current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck” will no longer work, but hey, if you have a concealed weapons permit, you are good to go. If signed into law, Virginia voters will need a photo with their ID. The bill, if signed by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, would go into effect conveniently in 2014.
Obviously this isn’t about proving that you live where you say you live, or are who you say you are. Virginia does not have a problem with voter fraud. It’s especially egregious since African Americans, Latinos, and the poor are the least likely to have a drivers’ license, and more prone to use the no-longer-acceptable forms of identification.
Sure, this is most likely illegal under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and that is exactly why Republicans and conservatives are trying to get it overturned by the Supreme Court, which will hear their case on February 27. Section 5 is the part that changed everything, because it requires states to prove to the Justice Department that the changes to voting laws do not result in disenfranchisement of minorities. According to the Civil Rights Organization, the Voting Rights Act took aim at the deliberate disenfranchisment of African-Americans in the South and Latinos in the Southwest.
Virginia also just changed their Voter ID laws in 2012. That law was given the go-ahead by the DOJ because it did not appear to disenfranchise minority voters. Last year Republican Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain argued on the floor that he opposed photo ID laws as he touted the “reasonable” legislation that allowed for all of the forms of ID they are now blocking.
Watch here, courtesy of Progress VA:
In January of this year, that same small government Republican introduced a bill that required pollworkers to match a photo and identifying information for each voter complied in the pollbook, and “if the voter does not appear to be the same person depicted in the photograph in the pollbook, any qualified voter may and the officer of election shall challenge the vote of such voter.” Quite the swing. Fortunately, his privacy invasion bill failed.
In 2006, the federal House and the Senate reauthorized the VRA in a bipartisan vote, which makes this new conservative argument even more absurd, especially given the number of Republican/ALEC-based voting law changes that were struck down around the country in the lead up to the 2012 election.
Conservatives used to wail about liberals using the court to make changes that the legislative branch would not, and now here they are…. raging against the machine of justice, turning their backs on their own principles, all because they can’t win elections if minorities are allowed to vote.
1 [Sources: 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973b(a)(1), 1973b(f)(1); South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 333-34 (1966); http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/sec_5/covered.htm]