Tough Voting Protections: Fair?

A voting-rights bill that says districts need federal approval to change laws may not reflect the times.

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"The way to understand Section 5 is if you think of it as a medicine," she added. "It makes sense for a medicine to go to certain places that are unwell. It seeks to change the places in America that are unwell because of voter fraud and suppression."

Brentin Mock, a reporter for Voting Rights Watch 2012 (a partnership between Colorlines.com and the Nation magazine), said that Section 5, while necessary, fails to address some of the problem areas of election 2012. "The voter suppression that was attempted in South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi and parts of Florida was combated with the help of Section 5. [But] the voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and most of Florida wasn't combated at all by Section 5 because those were not covered jurisdictions."

In other words, jurisdictions covered by Section 5 are added and subtracted every time the act is reauthorized. And the latter group of states that Mock mentions were not included in the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.

Nancy Abudu, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project based in Atlanta, makes the case that Section 5 is not prejudicial and that states and districts can petition at any time to be removed from the category of special oversight. She points to several jurisdictions that have successfully petitioned to be removed from the scrutiny of Section 5, including Sandy Springs, Ga., and several counties in Virginia. They approach the Justice Department and document the ways in which their voting practices have changed.

And it's not just about African Americans. In Texas, some districts made it harder for Latinos to vote for their preferred candidates. The ruling in Texas v. United States found that there was purposeful intent in denying Latino Texans the chance to vote for their candidates of choice.

Once again the Supreme Court will decide whether to change the law of the land. Election 2012 makes it clear that there is an ongoing pitched battle between politicians who favor voter suppression and citizens who want to make their voices heard.

Which remedies will make voting simpler and cleaner for all Americans? Despite the gravitas and power of the Supreme Court, U.S. voters and politicians may fight over this well past the next court decision.

Farai Chideya is a distinguished writer in residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Institute for Journalism. She is the author of four books and blogs at Farai.com.

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