Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Voting Still in Danger High Turnout Rates Don't Mean the Voting Rights Act Is Passe

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Voting Still in Danger High Turnout Rates Don't Mean the Voting Rights Act Is Passe

Article excerpt

Before the end of this month, the Supreme Court is expected to decide Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, a constitutional challenge to the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, one of the act's most important guarantees against racial discrimination in voting.

Shelby County has argued that the act is unnecessary and outdated and has urged the Supreme Court to hold it unconstitutional on that basis. With the court decision looming, a number of recent commentators have suggested that, in light of recent voter turnout data, the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed. They are wrong.

In The Wall Street Journal last month, examining what he called the "good news about race and voting," Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center argues that in recent presidential elections very few citizens, whatever their race, have reported difficulties going to the polls to exercise their right to vote. Mr. Kohut noted that in the last several presidential elections, African-American turnout has steadily increased. Based on the "good news" from this small slice of evidence, Mr. Kohut suggests that opponents of the Voting Rights Act could argue "the legislation has accomplished its objective of ending racial discrimination in voting and is no longer needed."

Increased voter turnout among African Americans is worthy of celebration, but it is no reason to scrap the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, which for 48 years has played a critical role in realizing the Constitution's command of voting equality and preventing state-sponsored voting discrimination.

Enacted in 1965 and renewed by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006, the act's preclearance requirement forbids governments with a history of voting discrimination from enforcing racially discriminatory voting changes. Using express authority granted in the Constitution, Congress enacted this essential protection to help ensure that the right to vote would actually be enjoyed by all citizens without regard to race. Indeed, the progress reflected in recent elections depends in large measure on the protections the Voting Rights Act provides. …

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