Here’s a small blip on the radar that’s sure to be getting brighter this year: Six out of the nine states covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are supporting a challenge, in the Supreme Court, that could overturn one of the strongest tools that advocates have in their defense of voting rights.
It’s called preclearance, and it says that when any of the nine fully covered states (Texas, South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia and Alaska), and parts of seven others (Florida, California, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan and New Hampshire) make any changes to their voting rules, those changes must first be cleared by the federal government.
Shelby County, in South Carolina, has challenged the rule saying it’s out dated and no longer needed. The challenge has ended up in the Supreme Court. Five states, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, are backing Shelby’s suit.
That’s where the issue now lies. Not a big concern compared to gun control or the series of impending fiscal cliffs – but that just may be what makes this issue all the more serious, it’s a sleeper, just because there’re more immediate things to worry about these days. But this case should have our full attention, it’s that important.
The preclearance clause provides the teeth to the voting rights advocates’ bite. Without it there’s no fight, no defense against an election authority arbitrarily changing times, locations, language on a ballot, rules, etc… The final authority on election changes and practices would be the very same authority that made the change.
We should point out that the preclearance rule is not universal. It only applies to states where voting discrimination practices were and are proven to still be a problem. So the Shelby County challenge is expected. And if Section 5 prevails this time, we should expect more of the same brought by other counties and states in the future, it’s the nature of the law. And that only means that our vigilance on the issue shouldn’t wane.
This is as important as immigration reform, health care, gun control and the rest. The difference is that this one is going to keep sneaking up on us.
[Photo by yeowatzup]