The Voting Rights Act of 1965, as we all know, played a pivotal role in the 1960s when the civil rights movement was at its strongest. It helped enforce the 15th Amendment, which prohibited discrimination in the polling place based on race.
Originally, the act was meant to punish those areas of the U.S. that were circumventing the amendment and using alternative ways to continue denying certain groups in the U.S. (primarily black) their voting rights.
Since the passing of the legislation, problems as far as discrimination in the polling place have all but vanished. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “The Voting Rights Act itself has been called the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.”
But now, several southern legislators seek to remove part of the bill, Section 5, that requires districts (concentrated in the South) to get Washington’s approval before changing voting laws and adjusting election districts. If the problem of discrimination at the polling place such as the use of literacy tests as a method of limiting who can vote is almost gone, then is the specific legislation still necessary?
In my opinion, no. At least not only limited to a small number of areas within the U.S.
The problem with Section 5 is that it is based on the process of preclearance, which involves the Department of Justice overviewing any legislation that would change voting processes within a state before changes are made. The state would have to prove that its practices were fair and nondiscriminatory; in some cases, language discrimination was also considered.
It is also important to note that Section 5 is only applied to certain areas of the country. These include historically segregated areas like Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana, and also other smaller areas of the country including Manhattan, New York and Monterey, Calif.
This was the result of an adjustment in the 1980s to allow for areas that have proved that segregation in the voting place is not a problem to “bail out” of the legislation and not have to go through preclearance anymore. As you can imagine, this has allowed for certain counties in some states to have different redistricting laws than other counties within the same state.
Gerrymandering is easier to get away with when one can argue so easily against redistricting based on segregation in an area still enforced by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
With preclearance, not only is it difficult to prove discrimination, but it is also limited to only some areas of the U.S. If discrimination in the polling place is still such a problem, then why not apply Section 5 to the whole country and not limit it to areas of the country that have historically had segregation issues?
Or, if indeed discrimination in the polling place is pretty much gone, then why not eradicate the legislation completely?
It doesn’t make sense to continue to keep the legislation in only some small parts of the country. It that sounds like a different kind of segregation—a segregation based on geography. I’m not saying that this country has completely eradicated all forms of prejudice everywhere and that we should forget the problem entirely. I’m not saying that there aren’t any issues left as far as discrimination and that precautions should not still be taken to make sure there is equality in the voting place.
However, I think if we’re going to try to fight an issue, then it should be something that spreads throughout the country and isn’t limited to just a certain population.