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  Vernellia R. Randall
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The University of Dayton
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Reaffirmation or Requiem for the Voting Rights Act?

Copyright 1996, The American Civil Liberties Union

The Voting Rights Act is arguably the single most successful civil rights law ever enacted. After three decades of enforcement, it has begun to give minority populations a voice in government that can be heard in towns, counties and states across the nation, and in the halls of Congress. Partly due to this record of success, a growing chorus claims that the law has outlived its usefulness, that race-conscious voting remedies are anachronistic.

In truth, however, such remedies are needed now more than ever. The tremendous progress made to date would never have happened if a Voting Rights Act had not existed that could be used by the federal government, and by groups like the ACLU and the NAACP/LDF, to compel change. And, as Shaw and its offspring demonstrate all too clearly, progress is extremely fragile. If the legal scaffolding that supports that progress were suddenly to be dismantled, all gains would be lost.

The color-blind society hypothesized in Shaw is still a distant dream. The reality is racial bloc voting, which means not only that minorities vote for minorities and whites for whites, but, more significantly, that whites vote against minorities. Minority populations exceeding 50 percent are still necessary if those populations are to have any real chance of choosing their representatives.

Equal representation for minorities also remains a distant dream. Even with a record-size Congressional Black Caucus, the proportion of African Americans in Congress still falls well below the nation's 12 percent black population. The numbers are even worse in Southern states. In Georgia, for example, blacks make up 25 percent of the voting age population, but only 7.6 percent of elected officials. At-large elections and other vote dilution mechanisms still abound, especially in small Southern towns that were largely untouched by the civil rights movement. The rights of other minority groups, such as Native Americans, are just beginning to be recognized, thanks in large part to efforts by the ACLU and other advocates.

One entire realm of government -- the judicial system -- has only recently begun to feel the reforms made possible by the Voting Rights Act. Opponents of voting reform have argued that judges should be exempt from the Act's provisions because judges are not meant to represent the population. In 1991, the Supreme Court declared that the Voting Rights Act does apply to the judiciary, and change is finally underway. However, some federal courts have dismissed voting rights challenges to judicial electoral methods, despite evidence of minority vote dilution, on the ground that the state had a preclusive interest in maintaining its existing system. This area of the law remains unsettled.

Discrimination persists on other levels, around the country: In New Jersey, for example, not once but twice during the 1980s the Republican National Committee was charged with targeting African American precincts specifically with a direct mail campaign that challenged the qualification of black voters. In North Carolina in 1990, the Republican Party sought to intimidate black voters by sending them a mailing that contained false information about voter residency requirements and alleged criminal penalties for violating those requirements. And in Hartford, Connecticut, a city rule that disqualifies voters who fail to report changes of address has led to the purging of predominately black and Latino voters from the voting rolls.

On this 30th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we celebrate the giant strides taken toward the goal of equal opportunity in the electoral process. At the same time, we call upon the nation to sustain its vigorous pursuit of that goal. Voting is among the most fundamental of rights in a democracy. Without a meaningful vote, there can be no equality before the law, no equal access, no equal opportunity. And without an intact Voting Rights Act, the threatened return to all-white government will dangerously polarize our society.

At this moment, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are charged with a grave responsibility. In the months ahead, they can either preserve the Voting Rights Act or gut it. In the words of Rep. Cynthia McKinney, "[t]his is a turning point in America's history. We can either move forward, together, or we can move back, divided."

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Same level:
Introduction ] HISTORY ] SHAW V. RENO ] Current Supreme Court Cases ] Race Conscious Districting ] [ Conclusion ] Glossary ] Section 2 - Voting Rights Act ]
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Voting Rights Act Decision Draws Senator's Ire ] Voting Rights and African Americans ] Debunking an Urban Legend: Death of Voting Rights ] Reaffirmation or Requiem for the Voting Rights Act ] Race and Election Irregularities on November 7 2000 ] Bush v Gore Through the Lens of Race ] Felon Disenfranchisement: the Modern Day Poll Tax ] Effect of the Voter Rights Act on Indians ] Reconstruction and Felon Disenfranchisement ]
[Race and Racial Groups] [Citizenship Rights]  [Justice and Race] [Patterns of Basic Needs] [Intersectionality Issues] [Human Rights]


Always Under Construction!

Always Under Construction!

Copyright @ 1997, 2008.
Vernellia R. Randall

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