Thursday, July 12, 2012

Texas’ Decades Long Fight Against Voting Rights

From Color Lines, by Brentin Mock

Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder declared in his address to the NAACP national convention in Houston what many voting rights advocates had been saying for months: That the photo voter ID law passed in Texas is a poll tax. Determining whether voter ID laws are as unconstitutional as poll taxes won’t be up to him, though. That honor goes to the U.S. Supreme Court justices who lately have been signaling they may be ready to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

What this means is that a legal challenge to a voter ID law in Texas could be the trigger for the demise of the constitutional act that made it possible for people of color to vote in much of the country. Rightwing pundits have all but conceded this week’s US District Court hearing over Texas’s voter ID law to the Department of Justice.

When the Voting Rights Act finally passed in 1965, made possible by the Smith v Allwright SCOTUS decision 20 years earlier, it once and for all banned any instrument, law or policy that would prevent anyone from voting based on race or color. Texas has been fighting back ever since.

When Texas was designated as a Section 5 state due to discrimination against Latinos, it grew increasingly defiant of the Voting Rights Act. According to a report by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, “Voting Rights in Texas 1982-2006,” only one state challenged Section 5 in court more than the Texas in that time period—and that’s Mississippi. From 1982 to 2006, Texas registered at least 107 Section 5 objections. Meanwhile, during that same time period, Texas lead the nation in several categories of voting discrimination, including Section 5 violations. Further, from the MALDEF report:

“Texas had far more Section 5 withdrawals, following the DOJ’s request for information to clarify the impact of a proposed voting change, than any other jurisdiction during the 1982-2005 time period. These withdrawals include at least 54 instances in which the state eliminated discriminatory voting changes after it became evident they would not be precleared by the DOJ.”

In other words, at least 54 times in 25 years, Texas had to back down from an effort to restrict the vote—thanks to the power granted the federal government under the Voting Rights Act. That power may soon be removed by the Roberts court.

The VRA enforcement represents an imposition of the federal government on state sovereignty, according to many Texas state officials today. Gov. Rick Perry said that DOJ’s enforcement of VRA in South Carolina, for instance, represented a “war” on states rights. The current state attorney general, Greg Abbott, has sued the federal government 24 times since he took office in 2004 over a number of federal law enforcement measures, not limited to voting rights.

But the same fear of expanding the electorate to people of color that existed in the years after Smith v Allwright seems to have spurred Texas state legislators to create the voter ID law currently challenged in court. During this week’s district court hearing, voting rights and race expert Morgan Kousser, of California Institute of Technology, testified that “there was considerable concern” among white state legislators about “losing control” of the legislature. “There is such a correlation between partisanship and race that any bill that has partisan effects would have racial effects,” said Kousser.

Read the full story @ Color Lines.


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