This month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments that could end key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County vs. Holder will challenge the provision requiring designated jurisdictions to receive “pre-clearance” before changing election laws. If there was any doubt that the Voting Rights Act needs to be retained, those doubts should have been erased by what happened in 2012. The greatest justification was the concerted effort by right-wingers to suppress the vote. Republican state houses throughout the country constructed an elaborate and calculated effort to suppress voter turnout. The widespread effort targeted specific demographics and were designed to make it more difficult for voters to exercise their franchise. It was the type of activity expressly forbidden by the Voting Rights Act. The 2012 elections were a case study in support of retaining the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The right to vote is not articulated in the Constitution; however, constitutional amendments state that you cannot prevent an eligible citizen from voting. The Voting Rights Act outlaws practices that prevent eligible citizens from reaching the polls, and yet, in 2012 elected officials were still trying to find ways to deny the vote.
The goal of the Voting Rights Act is to ensure that people who are eligible to vote are allowed to vote. Republican governors and state legislatures made repeated efforts to restrict voting rights throughout the country in 2012. The Department of Justice and the courts struck down multiple efforts to disenfranchise voters and suppress voter turnout in pre-clearance states like Florida, South Carolina, and Texas. As long as there are elected officials who would rather suppress voter turnout for political gain than encourage voter turnout, there will be a need to retain and enforce the provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
… Conservative political pundits like Ann Coulter, Tom Tancredo and Jane Chastain have advocatedfor “civics literacy tests” as a requirement to vote. Liberal columnist LZ Granderson openlywondered “should ignorant people be allowed to vote?” Literacy tests, of course, are expressly forbidden by the law. Literacy tests are exactly the type of discriminatory practice that gave rise to the Voting Rights Act. Yet in 2012, there were people who wanted to arbitrarily define “a well-informed public” as a condition for voting. The Voting Rights Act provides provisions for requesting federal voting monitors and observers. That need was reinforced when Democrats in Florida committed many irregularities in the congressional race between Allen West and Patrick Murphy.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a historical, critical, and landmark piece of legislation that is as important today as it was when enacted in 1965. 2012 proved that we still need federal oversight of elections administration for those states and jurisdictions that had a history of discriminatory voting practices. Poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and the “white primary” have been replaced by redistricting, restrictions on early voting, and voter registration.