Voting Rights Under Attack By Conservatives
The bill passed in 1965 came with the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement, serving to guarantee all Americans the fundamental right to vote, regardless of race or literacy. The act was backed historically by bipartisan support, although some Republicans have recently targeted certain clauses of the legislature as clear examples of overreaching by the government.
The Department of Justice under the Obama Administration has strongly enforced the Voting Rights Act, which was renewed under the Bush Administration in 2006. Since, much debate has oriented around Section 5 of the bill, which requires certain states to receive clearance for any election-related changes. These states traditionally were racially discriminant towards African Americans and other minorities, limiting their access to ballots and representation.
A lawsuit is currently pending, with Shelby County of Alabama suing the Department of Justice for requiring the state to follow Section 5 based on outdated statistics. Alabama is one of 16 states more closely scrutinized by the Department of Justice, and the lawsuit is supported by the affected attorney generals of Alabama, Arizona and Georgia. The bill also requires particular oversight for Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia.
"It simply was not rational in theory or practice to impose pre-clearance on the covered jurisdictions through 2031 based on voting statistics from 1964, 1968 and 1972," Shelby County lawyers wrote this week.
Some Republicans view parts of the Voting Rights Act as an extension of a federal government that has become too extensive, to the point of violating state rights. The issue is becoming one discussed by GOP presidential candidates on nationally-televised debates.
While still in the running for the nomination, Rick Perry attacked the Voting Rights Act and defended the right of states to administer national elections without the level of scrutiny by the Obama Administration.
“When I’m the president of the United States, the states are going to have substantially more right to take care of their business. And not be forced by the EPA, or by the Justice Department for that matter, to do things that are against the will of the people,” said Perry, who is currently the governor of Texas.
Texas is also involved with a lawsuit against the Voting Rights act. The state is undergoing redistricting and two sets of new district maps provide for very different political climates.
Even with the tensions surrounding the issue, proponents of the Voting Rights Act argue that it is highly unlikely the bill will be amended.
“Voting rights has been and continues to enjoy bipartisan support, not withstanding the cacophony of a few," said Tom Perez, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. "There’s a tendency around the nation to try to polarize so many issues, and I think the American people want us to come together around common values."
The debate around voting rights is likely to intensify as GOP candidates strive to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Mitt Romney has expressed support for banning bilingual ballots, and Rick Santorum has been attacked for his support in allowing ex-felons to vote.
Reach associate news editor Jerry Ting here.