Sunday, June 25, 2006

Voting Rights Confusion

Eugene Kane wants expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act renewed. But why?.

Maybe he just wants bilingual ballots and it is true that the federal mandate that they be used in certain circumstances will expire. As I blogged recently, people on the left side of the playground will generally say that immigrants should assimilate, but anything that would reflect that expectation is treated like a reenactment of the Nuremberg Laws. (Interestingly enough, Sensenbrenner supports bilingual ballots. So much for the "racism" charge.)

Maybe he wants what calls "federal protections for certain states" that some critics of the Act object to. He doesn't tell us what those are, but he is referring to the Act's "preclearance" requirements. Certain jurisdictions, identified in 1965 on the basis of certain results in the 1964 presidential election, can't change election procedures without preclearance by the U.S. Justice Department. To obtain preclearance, these jurisdictions must demonstrate that the change does not have the purpose, and will not have the effect, of discriminating against minority voters.

The covered jurisdictions are largely in the south, but New York County is one of them. Although there it is possible for a jurisdiction to be removed from the list, they mostly are not. The idea that these jurisdictions should continue to be singled out for special treatment is a historical artifact.

It's not even true that, once preclearance expires, these jurisdictions will be free to discriminate against minority voters (as unlikely as the suggestion that, say, New York City or Atlanta would actually do so might be). This is because that part of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits discrimination in voting is permanent. And, even if it weren't, discrimination against minorities in voting would be unconstitutional.

There is a widespread and, as he rightly points out, completely false belief in the African-American community that their right to vote is about to expire. Kane seems to conclude by arguing that the whole thing should be extended for its symbolic effect. It won't "sit well" with blacks to let these provisions expired even though they don't do anything. Having dispelled the myth of imminent disenfranchisement of blacks, he seems to think that we ought to act as if it were true.

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