NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

July 1, 2013

Quick action from Congress needed on voting rights

Congress under George W. Bush, in 2006, voted overwhelmingly — 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House — to extend the Voting Rights Act, including the existing preclearance provisions for certain states, for another 25 years.

Yet, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to effectively halt enforcement of the 1965 act, which requires advance approval of changes in voting laws in places with a record of discrimination.

In 2006 and again in 2009, the court told Congress to revise the VRA because it has not changed for nearly five decades. Congress was also to study how states and jurisdictions were subject to preclearance. The VRA mandated that some states, as well as counties in other states, were subject to special federal enforcement in an effort to make sure that racial discrimination against voters was not affecting their rights at the ballot box.

The VRA, in our opinion, worked to bring about greater participation by minorities in the voting process. It is indeed one of America’s great civil rights advances.

Yet Congress simply kicked the can down the road and now the Supreme Court, with last week’s decision, is kicking it back. In doing so, it sets up the perfect storm for potential chaos.

The VRA was founded on discrimination against blacks. Discrimination hasn’t gone away, but we acknowledge that its victims may have changed as well as the way the preclearance should be handled.

Unfortunately, the current Congress seems so polarized that it would be incapable of updating a voting rights law.

Congress must quickly move forward to protect voting standards and thwart changes to state laws that will make it difficult or impossible for individuals to vote, whether that be because of race, religion, gender or age.

Until then, we fear we no longer have a champion at the polls.

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