For over a century, the constitutional right to vote, particularly for Blacks has been under attack. Blacks, ex-slaves and slaves alike, were not considered e citizens of the U.S. and not allowed to vote. However, ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 redefined citizenship as “individuals born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens.” The 15th Amendment guaranteed voting rights to every citizen stating that, “the U.S. government is prohibited from denying a citizen the right to vote
based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. As a result, Blacks were allowed to vote, but faced obstacles. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 banished these obstacles by outlawing all discriminatory voting practices that would otherwise be responsible for widespread disenfranchisement of voters.
Recently, the Supreme Court heard arguments to dismantle the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in particular to remove Section 5, which requires states (mostly Southern States) to receive preclearance from the Justice Department for any changes to districting or voting procedures. The argument from the attorneys who seek to strike down Section 5 are that racial discrimination no longer exists. The argument itself is very compelling but reality suggest otherwise. Voter disenfranchisement still remains a prominent problem in states and communities that fall under Section 5.
The question remains, why are our political leaders creating a series of bureaucratic obstacles that make it difficult for citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote. The operative word is “citizen,” which is clearly defined by the 14th Amendment. It seems as though being a citizen in this country, especially a minority citizen, no longer guarantees you can exercise your right to vote since some of our leaders are using dirty tricks to take away this right or to make voting inconvenient. These are the same dirty tricks used in the Jim Crow era to deny people their basic voting rights because of skin color. Currently, a new Jim Crow era is upon us.
Voting rights are no longer taken away because of the color of one’s skin, but is taken away by new voter ID laws that limit early voting, restrict registration drives, impose onerous residency requirements and dismantle Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. These voter ID laws have become the main source of voter disfranchisement in the US, where some political leaders are introducing strict voter ID laws as strategies to influence the outcome of an election. These laws often most adversely affect the votes of poor, elderly, minorities and young people.
According to the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL) since 2001, nearly 1,000 Voter ID bills were introduced in a total of 46 states and 24 of these states passed major legislation between 2003-2012. Moreover, as of April 10, 2013, 30 states have introduced Voter ID legislation, which includes 12 states proposing new Voter ID legislation, seven states proposing to strengthen existing ID laws and 11 states making other changes to existing ID laws.
It is clear the very Act the Supreme Court is trying to dismantle is still needed in 2013 to protect minorities against voter disfranchisement. This was made clear in 2006 when Congress voted unanimously to extend Section 5 for the fourth time based on data from communities that are covered under Section 5. Now is not the time for the Court to dismantle or change one of the most effective law on the books. It is now time for the federal government to step up and protect minorities against these discriminatory voting practices. Section 5 is far from being outdated. Rather, since we are seeing the emergence of the new Jim Crow era, this section may be needed more than ever in the coming decades.