Rob Burgess

Saturday marked the 51st anniversary of one of the most important pieces of legislation ever signed in this country: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sadly, as I wrote in my July 3, 2013 column, “SCOTUS giveth, then it taketh”, the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder effectively ripped the vital organs out of the VRA.

This decision meant Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia no longer needed permission to change their voting laws. (California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota previously had not, but had some counties or municipalities that did before the law.)

“On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court held ... that it is unconstitutional to use the coverage formula ... to determine which jurisdictions are subject to the preclearance requirement,” states the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “Jurisdictions identified by the coverage formula ... no longer need to seek preclearance for the new voting changes.”

Almost as if to prove the necessity of the law that had just been diminished, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas moved to implement previously disallowed voting restrictions immediately after the Shelby decision. More local and state governments followed. Federal legislative fixes stagnated.

As I wrote in my March 18, 2015 column, “Voting Rights Act needed as ever”, a bill to address this gaping hole in the law was introduced Feb. 4, 2015, by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, and John Conyers, D-Michigan. Despite the vocal support of several politicians, including Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont; and President Barack Obama, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, nor a sister bill, the Voting Rights Amendment Act, have received a hearing in either chamber of the Republican-controlled Congress.

As compiled in a Friday press release by the nonprofit The Leadership Conference’s Scott Simpson, mopping up has been left to the lower courts:

• In North Carolina, a court recently found the state targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision” with its post-Shelby law.

• In Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit found the state’s voter ID law violates the VRA.

• In Michigan, a federal court overturned a ban on straight-ticket voting, saying it disproportionately targeted black voters and would lead to longer lines.

This judicial reaction is especially important this year — given Donald Trump.

“I’ve been hearing about it for a long time,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Aug. 1. “We’re going to win this election, but if it’s rigged … I’m telling you, Nov. 8, we’d better be careful. Because that election’s going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it’s going to be taken away from them.”

Here, Trump is crying before he can suffer Electoral College defeat. And downticket, Trump implores the party to play the victim, when Republicans are the aggressor. They act based on a willful misunderstanding of the facts. The actual “voter fraud” — of which they speak endlessly — almost never happens.

“All of these restrictive measures take their justification from a perceived need to prevent ‘voter fraud,’” reported The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham July 9, 2014. “But there is overwhelming scholarly and legal consensus that voter fraud is vanishingly rare, and in fact non-existent at the levels imagined by voter ID proponents.”

In reality, exactly the opposite is the case: It’s minority voters who are the ones who should be watching closely — for targeted voting restrictions from state and federal Republican lawmakers, that is.

Rob Burgess, Tribune city editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

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