With a blatant disregard for the year we are all currently living in, the 1965 Voting Rights Act seems destined on a path toward the Supreme Court. The state of Texas is bringing the challenge to the 47 year old law that had to spell out voting rights for minorities very clearly and in terms everyone could understand, since the message was apparently missed by the slightly older 15th Amendment (1870). Texas will be challenging the law in 25 hours of arguments set to transpire over the course of this week at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Their rationale for fighting this case was the March striking down of a passed law from 2011 in that state which required all persons intending to vote in an election to present photographic identification before being allowed to vote.
The Obama Administration challenged the Texas law on the grounds that it was unfair to minority voters – which it is. It’s not unfair to just the minority voters of course, but anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements of having a drivers license, state ID, or passport on hand – so one can also add in elderly people and students to the broad based groups of individuals potentially effected by this law. While the elderly would tend to lean more conservative, nearly every other group of people effected by this law would tend to vote and lean left – which highlights the political perversion of voters rights and, by extension, the originally very bipartisan Voting Rights Act.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act became a major victory for the civil rights movement and for President Johnson. He signed it into law after the act sailed (relatively) through Congress by a 77 – 19 margin in the Senate and a 333 – 85 margin in the House. Such a large margin illustrates the fact that the act had wide support from both parties – the only meaningful opposition arising from Democrats in the southern states who in addition to crying “states rights” were barely masking their unfounded racial fears of what untold horrors would be unleashed on the country if more voted than just white people.
To sweeten the deal and bring some people over who were on the fence, the act was made non-permanent – and it has in fact been renewed four times so far: 1970, 1975, 1982, and most recently under the Bush Administration in 2006. The most recent renewal is good for another 25 years. Unfortunately for issues that should have already been decided and done with a long time ago, the political climate since 2008 (the rise of the Tea Party) has dragged yet another over-with battle back into the light.
While the 2011 Texas law doesn’t specifically target minorities, elderly, or the youth, it replaces the previous requirements of a voter ID card or driver’s licence or state ID or something else acceptable like a utility bill with the aforementioned “driver’s license, state ID, passport” but throws in a couple of other bright shining provisions. Student IDs with photos on them? Not good enough. Gun licenses? Vote away! Going to show that in Texas you’re not really an American if you’re trudging through an American education, no – being American means the right to shoot things.
The politicization of the Voting Rights Act has increased thanks in part to two main driving forces – the Republican party getting more conservative, white, and exclusive of non-whites, and the realization by the backers of that same party that the country as a whole is becoming less white – a demographic shift that is not going to change over the decades to come without radical changes to immigration policy/banning non-whites from breeding. Instead of attempting to appeal to a broader base, the Republican party has clutched its base more and more tightly – a base that is extremely upset by the de-WASPing of the country. With screams of “voter fraud!” as a cover, conservative state legislatures have – especially this election cycle – sought out to do whatever they can to limit the rights of groups that are presently predisposed to voting more liberal from being able to exercise that right.
This is, of course, why we have the Voting Rights Act in the first place – to prevent the reestablishment of the poll tax. If you seek out new ways of identification just to gain the permission to vote and the potential voter has to go out and pay to acquire said identification, you have just instituted a poll tax. You have just potentially disenfranchised someone if they are unable to pay said tax, and you have just violated the Voting Rights Act. The logical response to all of this, according to the Republican base, is just to have the entire Act struck down by the Supreme Court. Then we could get back to the glory days of the United States, when voting with ease was something limited merely to those born into the privilege of being white.
Screaming “voter fraud!” is more of a straw man than anything else. According to a study by the Bush Administration’s Justice Department conducted from 2002 – 2007, out of the 300 million votes that were cast in various local, state, and national elections, there were only 86 people convicted of voter fraud – most of whom were just unsure of their eligibility to vote. There is no massive voter fraud conspiracy.
No matter which way the courts decide in this round of the case, there’s likely to be some section of the political spectrum that will be rather unhappy with the result:
Enforce it often and face Republican accusations of overreaching into the states’ sovereignty; Enforce it rarely and face Democratic accusations of shirking minority protections; Enforce it selectively and, ironically, face accusations of playing politics.
Which is why, odds are, this decision will be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. The re-hashing of civil rights victories will get to continue into 2013 and beyond!