Defending everyone’s right to vote

By Rod Haxton, editor

Most of us have been fortunate to grow up in a time when the ability for anyone to vote has been taken for granted. If you were white, then you’ve never known it to be any other way.

One doesn’t have to look too far into our history to find a time when it wasn’t so easy for minorities to vote. Poll taxes and literacy tests, for example, were means by which minorities (i.e., blacks) in the South were prevented from voting.

It was only through the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration that “we shall overcome” that the right to vote was guaranteed to all Americans.

End of story, right?

Unfortunately, no.

In Texas, for example, legislative districts have been gerrymandered so that Latino voters are not a majority. This makes it possible for white voters to continue electing their candidates to legislative seats.

In Kansas and elsewhere, Secretaries of State have fabricated an epidemic of voter fraud in order to enact voter ID laws with a sole purpose of limiting the ability of minorities to vote.

In addition, these same election officers have limited polling booths in districts heavy with minority residents, which has led to voters waiting in line for hours and hours in order to cast their ballots.

You won’t find this happening in precincts which have a majority of white voters who vote Republican.

They have also taken steps to limit the number of days available for advance voting in an attempt to make it more difficult for minorities and working class people - who tend to vote Democrat - to get to the polls.

Even though the Voting Rights Act was signed into law nearly 50 years ago, the battle continues.

Conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court are currently taking aim at Section 5 within the law which identifies states which have had a continuing history of voter suppression and puts them under close scrutiny for compliance.

When Florida attempted to reduce voting hours in a manner that clearly discriminated against minorities, it was blocked by Section 5.

Section 5 has been used to stop the implementation of discriminatory voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina.

Congress has extended the provisions of Section 5 four times since 1965. Of nine states specifically targeted by the provisions of Section 5, six have passed  restrictive voting laws since 2010.

Conservative lawmakers in those nine states, as well as other red states across the country, are urging the Supreme Court to remove Section 5 as an outdated provision. After all, we’ve elected a black President - twice - the ability for minorities to vote must no longer be a problem. Justice Antonin Scalia is in full agreement.

Scalia argued before fellow justices earlier this week that when Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 2006 in the Senate (98-0) and the House (390-33), that those votes didn’t necessarily reflect what was in the hearts of the Congressmen. He said that lawmakers felt pressured not to vote against what he calls a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

There you have it. Scalia has determined that 98 Senators voted for an extension of the VRA, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because they didn’t have the courage not to vote for it.

Conservatives defend that thinking by declaring the days of poll taxes and other deterrents to voting are behind us. Instead, the ability to prevent “undesirable” people from voting has simply adopted a different game plan.

Rather than paying a poll tax, we’ll simply take a bite out of your paycheck by making you wait in line for six or seven hours. Or we’ll make you pay to get a copy of your birth certificate so you can prove to the election officer you are a legal citizen.

Instead of passing a literacy test you need to provide a photo ID.

Instead of encouraging more people to vote, states such as Ohio cut the number of advance voting days from 35 in 2008 to just 11 in 2012 (and eliminated Sunday voting in the process).

None of this is discriminatory. Why would any minority voter think they are the victims?

After decades of encouraging voter turnout, we’ve seen a concerted effort in recent years to do just the opposite. Republicans used their majorities in state legislatures following the 2010 election to make it even more difficult for some people - or at least the wrong people - to vote.

Despite the progress we’ve made since enacting the VRA, there are still a number of states and conservative lawmakers who would prefer taking us back in time prior to 1965.

We haven’t overcome racism. The game is just played a little differently now.

Rod Haxton can be reached at

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