Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Securing the Vote the Fight Must Continue for Free and Open Elections

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Securing the Vote the Fight Must Continue for Free and Open Elections

Article excerpt

Voting is one of the sacred entitlements of every American, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been one of the most powerful legal tools to ensure citizens of equal access to democracy.

It's no surprise that reaction to a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that gutted the act would be swift, hard and passionate. But just as those who try to keep some Americans from the polls should not rejoice at this decision, those who battle the insidious erection of voting barriers should not despair.

The court's majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, allows nine states, mostly in the South, to make changes to their voting laws without prior federal approval. These states had been subject to the act's "preclearance" provision due to a history of discrimination that sought to limit the participation of minorities in voter registration and elections. Declaring that the "country has changed,"

Mr. Roberts wrote that the evidence of discrimination used by Congress in 1965 to determine which states needed clearance from the Justice Department was outdated. Indeed, many backers of the act probably didn't think it would be necessary five decades later.

He cited contemporary data that showed African-Americans voting and registering to vote in those states at levels comparable to whites. For the first time, blacks even exceeded whites in voter turnout nationwide, 66 percent to 64 percent, in last November's presidential election.

Although schemes to keep some citizens away from the polls have not been banished from the land, African-Americans, through the Voting Rights Act and other laws, have caught up to their white counterparts in registering to vote, participating in elections and winning office. One can see proof of that by looking at the White House.

It may be small comfort to rights advocates, but Justice Roberts' opinion upheld the use of the Voting Rights Act, so long as Congress updates the formula for which states and counties must submit to preclearance. …

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