Last month’s Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act served as a reminder of the long history of racial voting suppression in this country. Many of the states covered by Section 5 of the act, particularly in the South, spent decades trying every method they could think of to keep blacks and other minorities from the polls, or to reduce their voting strength. But areas that aren’t covered by the act have no reason to feel smug. Many lawmakers in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also pursued ways to keep selected voters from the polls, using methods like ID requirements or restrictions on early voting. Though the intent is often partisan — Republican officials repressing Democratic votes — the effect is usually the same as it was during the struggles of the 1960s, having a disparate impact on blacks and other minorities, but now adding on students, the poor and the elderly.
These more recent battles over ballot access show how important it is to build new legislative protections for participation in democracy. Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires areas with a history of discrimination to pre-clear any electoral changes with the Justice Department, remains a significant tool to prevent abuses in areas spread across 15 states, and it should be upheld by the court. But no matter what happens to the act, it’s imperative that Congress take action to prevent these kinds of abuses across the rest of the country.
… What’s really needed is a new act that makes access to the polls a universal American right. The Voting Rights Act remains necessary to prevent continuing racial discrimination, but bringing lawsuits under Section 2 of the act (which applies to the entire country and is not being challenged) is enormously difficult and costly. Preliminary injunctions to stop discriminatory election practices outside covered areas are rarely granted.
Full Article: A Universal Right to Vote – NYTimes.com.