Take a stand: Voting Rights … Act now

Casey Thomas | 7/9/2013, 3:31 a.m.
I’m not a writer, I just have something to say. A few months ago, I wrote a column about the ...
Casey Thomas

The Dallas Examiner

I’m not a writer, I just have something to say.

A few months ago, I wrote a column about the upcoming hearing of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the column, I talked about the chance that due to the makeup of the current Supreme Court, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could be overturned. It was important for us to make our voices heard so that nothing would be done to this act.

Fast forward to the last week of June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act should be changed by Congress, which made Section 5 meaningless. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was written to provide protection for residents of the nine states that have shown a history of discrimination when it came to voting rights of people of color by requiring pre-clearance by either the U.S. Justice Department or federal court before any electoral changes could be made. Section 5 provides protection for discrimination due to race as it relates to voting. The ruling stated that the U.S. Congress needs to go back and revise the formula used to determine which counties, states or municipalities are still necessary for pre-clearance under Section 4.

For example, here in Texas, when the State Legislature voted to approve the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country, the Justice Department refused to approve the changes due to the number of Texans of color who did not have a driver’s license or other forms of approved identification to vote. Also, there are many counties in Texas where residents have to drive hours to get to the nearest Department of Motor Vehicle location to apply to get the voter identification card. As a result of this, many Texans who have voted in the past would have huge obstacles to vote in elections in the future.

Another result of the ruling by the Supreme Court is with redistricting. In 2011, the State Legislature voted to approve maps for State House and Senate districts and U.S. House of Representatives that were proven in court to be discriminatory. Thanks to Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, these maps had to get approval from the court or the Justice Department before they were approved.

Without the protection of Section 4, the State Legislature can freely approve any map or changes to voting that they feel are appropriate. This is why it’s important for us to stay engaged between elections. There is a difference in politics and policy, and we need to do a better job of becoming involved in policy.

Now what can we do? The first thing that can be done is get educated about what the Voting Rights Act is and how Sections 4 and 5 protect us. Next, we can contact our U.S. House member and Senator, and tell them to move without haste to revise the formula that covers states that still disproportionally discriminate against people of color. We can stand with other organizations and coalitions that demand changes be made to the Voting Rights Act that will more accurately reflect the discrimination that is taking place today. We can get more done together than we can apart. Let’s get busy! We don’t have any time to waste.