Do we need to restore the Voting Rights Act? | The Tylt

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Do we need to restore the Voting Rights Act?
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Activists are fighting to keep the doors open at polling stations in Randolph County, a rural community in Georgia. As midterm elections fast approach, Randolph County's two-person election board has announced plans to close seven of the community's nine polling stations. Activists say this is voter suppression that should be policed by the Voting Rights Act, parts of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. Opponents say the state is self-policing and the change isn't discriminatory. What do you think?

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Do we need to restore the Voting Rights Act?
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Activists worry voters in Randolph County, which covers 431 square miles and has no public transportation system, will not be able to vote if the number of polling stations is reduced so dramatically. As New York Magazine reports, such a drastic change to voting protocol would have previously triggered Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

This small county set off a large national brouhaha by proposing to close seven of nine polling places before the November general election. Because Randolph is a majority-black county, this is precisely the kind of action that would have instantly triggered U.S. Justice Department scrutiny under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — until that “preclearance” provision was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Now it took local voter agitation, an intervention by the ACLU, and some reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to place a spotlight on the highly suspicious contraction of polling places.

Without Section 5, activists have been scrambling to prevent the closure of the polling stations before the November elections.

#WeDontNeedTheVRA

But the reaction to the situation in Randolph County can also be seen as a case in favor of reducing the power of the Voting Rights Act. 

Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, which oversees elections operations throughout the state, has issued a statement urging Randolph County officials to “abandon this effort.”
....Kemp said in a statement: “As soon as we learned about this proposal, we immediately contacted Randolph County to gather more information. Although state law gives localities broad authority in setting precinct boundaries and polling locations, we strongly urged local officials to abandon this effort and focus on preparing for a secure, accessible, and fair election for voters this November.”

The state is self-policing without incentive or oversight from the federal government in the form of Section 5.

#RestoreTheVRANow

Slate points out that Kemp's record on voter suppression is complicated. Many activists do not believe he is the right person to lobby for the rights of Randolph County voters. 

Because of its history of racist voting laws, Randolph County was once required to seek federal permission before altering its election procedures. But after the Supreme Court gutted this oversight in 2013, the county was freed to crack down on the franchise. It is no coincidence that its election board chose this moment to shutter most of its polls: In November, the popular Democrat Stacey Abrams will compete for the governorship against Republican Brian Kemp, the current Georgia secretary of state. Kemp, who has devoted his time in office to a ruthless campaign of voter suppression, called upon Randolph County to abandon the plan when it spurred widespread outrage. That being said, the key figure in the Randolph County controversy is a Kemp ally who was handpicked by the secretary of state to close polls throughout Georgia.
...Kemp also canceled or suspended 35,000 voter registrations using Exact Match, a version of Kris Kobach’s notorious Crosscheck program that compares registrants’ information with motor vehicle and Social Security databases. If a single letter, space, or hyphen did not match the database information, the voter application was rejected. Black voters were eight times more likely than whites to have their registrations halted due to Exact Match.
Perhaps most egregiously, Kemp launched an investigation into Abrams’ efforts to register more minority voters despite no evidence of fraud. He used the probe to harass and intimidate voting rights advocates. Later, he refused to register 40,000 would-be voters who had signed up through the drive. Speaking to Republicans behind closed doors, Kemp explained the stakes: “Registering all these minority voters that are out there … if they can do that, they can win these elections.” During Kemp’s tenure, Georgia’s population has increased substantially—yet the number of registered voters has actually gone down.
#WeDontNeedTheVRA

The closure of the polling stations was suggested by Mike Malone, an election consultant who was appointed by Kemp. Malone called for the closures on the grounds that none of the locations complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act and would be unsafe for some voters. When asked to justify the timing of the closure, Malone said it had nothing to do with suppression, there simply was no better time to make improvements that will eventually benefit voters. Per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

At one of the “courtesy” meetings, Malone rejected criticism that the move would disenfranchise voters, and pointed to absentee and early voting alternatives.
“Is this the right time? The answer is no. It’s not. The reason it’s not the right time? It’s never the right time. Should we wait for the presidential year? Should we wait for an off year?” Malone said. “The main thing is not everyone is going to be happy with the talk of consolidation whether it be now or two years down the road.” 
#WeDontNeedTheVRA

On a more broad platform, proponents of maintaining the current, weaker version of the Voting Rights Act say the preclearance protocol mandated by the Section 5 placed an undue burden on states. Not only that, they argue the voter suppression the VRA was meant to stamp out no longer exists in the U.S.

The forms of discrimination that the Voting Rights Act was passed to eliminate have been — this may surprise you — eliminated. Poll taxes and literacy tests have vanished. Black Americans’ rates of voter registration and election turnout used to be a tenth or less of white Americans’ rates; today it is not unusual for blacks to be registered at higher rates than whites, and in the 2012 election, black turnout exceeded white turnout — including in states with strict voter-ID laws. Which isn’t to say that federal nondiscrimination law should be eliminated entirely, only that complainants should be required to prove their cases in court and that all jurisdictions should be treated equally rather than relegating some to second-class status based on practices eliminated 40 or 50 years ago. Under normal circumstances our constitutional order leaves most decisions about the conduct of elections to the states; the Voting Rights Act recognizes that the situation facing black Americans in the 1950s and 1960s was anything but normal. But it is also the case that Section 5 was never intended to be permanent. Originally it was scheduled to sunset in five years; it was renewed in 1970 and repeatedly since. The end of the preclearance regime is in harmony with the progress we have made.
With the current majorities in Congress, Republicans are empowered to do nothing in this matter, and to see to it that nothing is done. The Voting Rights Act is fine as it is.
#RestoreTheVRANow

Supporters of restoring the full power of the Voting Rights Act, though, say forms of voter discrimination are far more insidious than the literacy tests of the past. While not as flagrant, studies show voter suppression still happens in the country and it is altering nationwide politics in a profound way. Per The Atlantic

Voter suppression almost certainly helped Donald Trump win the presidency. Multiple academic studies and court rulings indicate that racially biased election laws, such as voter-ID legislation in places like Wisconsin, favored Republican candidates in 2016. Like most other elections in American history, this one wasn’t a fair fight.
A new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlantic has uncovered evidence of deep structural barriers to the ballot for black and Latino voters, specifically in the 2016 election. More than that, the survey finds that the deep wounds of Jim Crow endure, leaving America’s democratic promise unfulfilled.
The real extent of voter suppression in the United States is contested. As was the case for poll taxes and literacy tests long ago, restrictive election laws are often, on their face, racially neutral, giving them a sheen of legitimacy. But the new data from PRRI and The Atlantic suggest that the outcomes of these laws are in no way racially neutral. The poll, conducted in June, surveyed Americans about their experiences with voting, their assessments of the country’s political system, and their interfaces with civics. The results, especially when analyzed by race, are troublesome. They indicate that voter suppression is commonplace, and that voting is routinely harder for people of color than for their white counterparts.
FINAL RESULTS
Politics
Do we need to restore the Voting Rights Act?
A festive crown for the winner
#RestoreTheVRANow
#WeDontNeedTheVRA