Although the Vietnam War deeply marred Lyndon Johnson’s legacy, one cannot deny the extent of Johnson’s domestic achievements. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the cornerstones of his Great Society ideal, mitigating Jim Crow practices and voter suppression. In a nation where minorities were inherently repressed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided a vital service and was a triumph for democracy.
Despite its good intentions, to Antonin Scalia, the Act represents a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Scalia and the rest of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing wish to strike down the pivotal Section V, which mandates judicial preclearance of procedural changes within covered jurisdictions. Currently, Section V covers (with occasional county exceptions) Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. These are all states that have been particularly abusive with respect to voter suppression both historically and contemporarily.
Democracy is a fundamental American principle, and all eligible citizens have a right to vote without being harassed or intimidated. While current Southern tactics are far less overt than their Jim Crow days, they remain flagrantly subversive of democracy. Under the guise of precluding voter fraud, most of these states have imposed highly restrictive Voter ID and registration laws which disproportionately disenfranchise minorities. In addition, they have slashed early voting and permanently disenfranchised released non-violent felons.
The entire premise of these laws is patently illogical, as voter fraud is extremely rare. In total, only 83 fraudulent votes have been cast since 2000, and most of those were honest mistakes as opposed to criminal behavior. While obtaining proper identification is relatively easy for more affluent Americans, many low-income minorities struggle to do so due to the cost.
The demise of early voting led to unfathomably long election lines, dissuading low-income minority voters from exercising their right to vote — the goal of the right-wing. Disenfranchising non-violent felons unfairly punishes people who have already served their sentences and also overly disenfranchised African-American males who are often victims of the prison-industrial complex. One in three African American males can expect to spend time in jail due to racial profiling and excessive punishment.
Republicans have resorted to these tactics largely due to their rapidly diminishing chances of victory. The party, which once prided itself for its diversity, has simply become too unappealing to America’s changing demographics. For example, Mitt Romney won fifty-nine percent of whites — once the vast majority of the electorate — in 2012. Yet their share of the electorate has decreased in every election since 1992. In 2000, whites comprised 81 percent of the electorate. In 2012, this number fell to 72 percent. Obama dominated among minorities, winning 93 percent of the African-American vote, 73 percent of the Latino vote and 71 percent of the Asian vote. The GOP has largely become anachronistic, and voter suppression is one of the two hopes it has for avoiding extinction — the other being to change its positions, which I don’t foresee occurring in the near future.
I distinctly remember a telephone conversation I had with an African-American woman in Ohio. I had been phone-canvassing for the Obama Campaign, and asked her for whom she intended to vote. She lamented that although she was a fervent Obama supporter, she lacked the proper photo identification. I found this perplexing, as Ohio Republicans had failed to institute strict voter ID laws. The Republicans had successfully created an environment of confusion and fear, and she had been told by GOP operatives that voter fraud was a felony. What disgusted me most was that this woman had a brain-tumor and was working two jobs to support herself. It was deeply perturbed me that she and so many other diligent yet unfortunate citizens had become targets of voter suppression.
Interestingly enough, Ohio isn’t covered under Section V. Neither are Florida, Pennsylvania or a myriad of other states. So perhaps an amicable compromise would be to expand Section V to cover every state in the country. Doing so would hamper voter suppression efforts and ameliorate the “stereotyping” which Shelby County, Alabama is bemoaning. Furthermore, Shelby County’s self-depiction as a bastion of integrity and equality is utterly belied by its attempts to keep African-Americans out of governing. What’s overlooked is that had Shelby County not continued its racist practices, it would have gained the ability to opt out of Section V, as 200 other counties have already done.
To hear claims that racism has ended, and any continuing anti-discrimination measures constitute racial entitlement, is ignorant and offensive. Racism continues to thrive in the United States (particularly the South) and conflating individual tolerance with an end to institutional racism reflects conservatives’ lack of perspective. After all, outside of majority-minority Congressional districts, where else have African-Americans achieved high elected office? There are only two African-American senators — Tim Scott (D-SC) and Mo Cowan (D-MA) — both of whom were appointed, and one African-American Governor, Deval Patrick (D-MA).
Clearly, Scalia is exercising his right to impose asinine arguments on the rest of the country, as he has since 1986.