The ruling Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 doesn’t give carte blanche to affected states for the reinstitution of unfair voting practices. Violating a citizen’s right to vote is still against the law.
What it does do, however, is require Congress to use data that isn’t five decades old to shape the coverage formula for the law.
The reaction over the 5-4 decision Tuesday was what would be expected for the most part. To hear some assessments, voters in Georgia and the other states that were subject to federal oversight of elections will be disenfranchised en masse and the Republic as we know it is doomed.
That is not the case.
What will come out of it is our state and the others that have been held to a different standard than the other 80 percent of the nation will have equal footing in our ability to determine how voting is conducted. This a basic right of a state’s sovereignty that Georgia and the others specified in the law — fully covered states were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — have been denied.
The United States in 2013 is not the same as it was in 1965. No political boundaries are drawn based on 1965 population figures. No federal programs are meted out based on numbers from 1965. Yet, when Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 for another 25 years, Section 4b, which establishes the formula for the act, continued to be based on historic patterns of discrimination against minority voters up to 1965. The reauthorization completely ignored the four most recent decades.
The result of the Supreme Court’s decision is that Section 5, which forces Georgia to seek preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before enacting any voting changes, is nonfunctional unless Congress rewrites the stricken portion of the law in a way that passes muster with the Supreme Court.
A number of federal lawmakers have pledged to do just that. How quickly it will happen in a Congress that is deeply divided on seemingly every issue is anyone’s guess.
In the meantime, Georgia and the other eight states that were subject to the intense federal oversight have an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the nation that a great deal has changed in the past half-century. We hope that our elected officials on all levels would do exactly that.