The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case challenging a key component of the Voting Rights Act next week. Given the current makeup of the Court, his does not bode well for free elections.
At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is the section that gives muscle to the Act. There are certain states and certain counties in those states which shall remain nameless (*cough* The South *cough*) which have an unfortunate history of disenfranchising people who, shall we say, are a shade darker than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Section 5 requires those states/counties to seek Federal approval (preclearance) before making changes to election laws. This can, at times, be a significant burden. Simple things like changing polling places to across the street requires Federal approval. But because of the counties’ history of changing polling places to across the county, these things need to be done.
There are recent examples of state laws being rejected because of Voting Rights Act violations. South Carolina’s Voter ID law for instance. The number of rejects has certainly dropped significantly since enactment, though. But that isn’t the point. The entire Voting Rights Act has been deemed Constitutional in the past. The current Court, though, is only in favor of precedent if it fits within their narrow world view. And their narrow world view is likely to ignore Constitutionality and precedent and say to the world that things are better now and those states and counties no longer have to seek preclearance.
I am somewhat sympathetic to complaints that it is unfair to single out certain states and counties for preclearance. Can their past sins ever be legislatively forgiven? If we lived in a fair world, the answer would be yes. But this is far from a fair world which is why we need the Voting Rights Act in the first place.
This past election cycle has shown that preclearance is still a good idea. I think the ideal outcome would be to rule preclearance Constitutional, but the singling out of certain states and counties Unconstitutional. The result would be to force all states to request preclearance before changing voting laws. This would certainly be unwieldy at first. That could be fixed by a 21st Century Voting Rights Act that deals away with the bothersome portions of preclearance like moving a polling place across the street.