A democratic republic is not honest or fair unless it upholds the principle of “one person, one vote”. All Americans should want to uphold that principle, strictly.
But not all do. Both historically and today, some may benefit from the principle’s two enemies: discrimination and fraud. How do we best combat both discrimination and fraud, in our voting processes?
The Supreme Court has just struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Superficially it sounds like some people could have just lost their voting rights or something, and Yahoo!’s coverage starts out in a mournful tone. But let’s consider the substance, on both sides.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, reauthorized by Congress for an additional 25 years in 2006, gives the federal government the ability to pre-emptively reject changes to election law in states and counties that have a history of discriminating against minority voters. The law covers nine states and portions of seven more, most of them in the South. The formula used to decide which states are subject to this special scrutiny (set out in Section 4 of the law) is based on decades-old voter turnout and registration data, the justices ruled, which is unfair…[because] many of these states now have near-equal voter turnout rates between minorities and whites.
“The coverage formula that Congress reauthorized in 2006 ignores these developments, keeping the focus on decades-old data relevant to decades-old problems,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
The Justice Department used Section 5 of the law to block voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina last year…
The court has effectively now put the ball back in Congress’ court, writing in its decision that it is up to Congress to write a new formula that is based on current data. States or counties that fit the new formula could still be subject to federal “preclearance” of changes to their elections procedures…
The story there seems to be: In the 60s, they were justly worried about discrimination and passed a law giving the federal government a great deal of power over some States. Today, fifty years later, much (if not most) of the discrimination problem has receded, the States are worried about fraud, and have begun to pass voter ID laws to combat fraud. The Obama administration has used the 1965 law aggressively to block those fraud-fighting efforts. And Chief Justice Roberts, writing for a SCOTUS majority, has just said to knock it off; do a fresh study of the real problem.
For completeness, let’s look at Justice Ginsburg’s objections. The Yahoo! article continues:
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes the “sad irony” of Roberts’ decision is that it strikes down the key part of the Voting Rights Act because it has been so successful at preventing racial discrimination. “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” she writes. Ginsburg also slams the court’s majority for relying on turnout and registration rates “as if that were the whole story” and ignoring so-called second-generation laws and regulations designed to make it harder for minorities to vote…
But Roberts didn’t throw out preclearance; he only said, re-validate its basis to make sure it’s fair, before you use it again. Ginsburg’s imagery, of throwing out your umbrella in a rainstorm, is vivid but possibly misplaced. She assumes that we live in a racial “rainstorm” whose intensity is virtually unchanged from the 1950s/60s. But if that were so, we would not have an African-American President.
On the above information, I’m with Roberts: while problems of discrimination may remain, and any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress should indeed take a fresh look at the real problem. Congress should not make a lazy assumption that this is still the 1950s or 60s, nor that efforts to fight the problem of voter fraud must automatically be illegitimate.