Posted by: JanF | July 26, 2013

Elections Matter: Holder-ing the Line

“Elections Matter”.

I know … I know. Trite and overstated. But yesterday it struck me again just how much elections matter.

In June, the Supreme Court of the United States (also known as Ginni Thomas’ excellent stick with which to beat cash out of donors for partisan political activities), struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That section identified 11 states and sundry counties which Congress had decided must get permission before they changed any voting laws. Many of us were understandably upset by that and even more upset at the reasoning of Chief Justice John Roberts that we are a post-racial country and that states setting up barriers to minority voting is so 1950s last year yesterday.

Since that ruling, states have gleefully declared open season on the right to vote, for example, Texas’ Attorney General Greg “Meaner than Rick Perry” Abbott spiking the football as he declared that the new redistricting will just go into place despite its not even veiled attempts to redistrict away Latino voting power.

To which Attorney General Eric Holder said “Hold on there, pardner … penalty called, go back to the 30 yard line” (sorry, football season is about to start; I cannot help myself!).

“Today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the state of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” Holder said in a speech before the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Pa. “We believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”

(Holder v Texas (pdf) )

There are a couple of other places where we can hope that the attorney general will step in: North Carolina and Florida.

In North Carolina this past week:

The highly-conservative North Carolina legislature just released a new voter suppression bill that would enact not just voter ID, but a host of other new initiatives designed to make it more difficult to vote. A significant roadblock to the legislation was removed last month when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, making it easier for states with a history of racial discrimination like North Carolina to enact new voter suppression laws. […]

If passed, HB 589 will almost certainly have a disastrous impact on voting in North Carolina. As Ari Berman notes, 56 percent of North Carolinians voted early in 2012, including a disproportionate number of minorities. In addition, more than 155,000 voters registered to vote at the polls last year. And with 10 percent of North Carolinians — 613,000 people, a third of whom are black and half of whom are registered Democrats — lacking photo ID, it doesn’t take Encyclopedia Brown to figure out which party will be helped by HB 589.

In Florida where a judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit related to purging the voter rolls:

The groups fighting the state had argued that Florida’s efforts to remove suspected non-U.S. citizens needed to be cleared by federal authorities first because five counties in the state had been subject to the federal law.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. District Court in Tampa lifted a five-month old stay that had prevented Florida from sending any new names of potential non-U.S. citizens to county election officials.

It is my understanding that Attorney General Holder can sue any state and put them back into pre-clearance status. Without Section 4, that means filing suit and finding a judge to stop the implementation of the laws which disenfranchise voters based on race or ethnicity, so it adds some complexity to the process.

But because Democrats won a national election in 2012, we have the Justice Department and a Democratic Attorney General who not only respects civil rights but who is willing to enforce them.

So it is not only “It’s The Supreme Court, Stupid” but “It’s The Justice Department, All Y’all”. Elections DO Matter … and when we (are allowed to) vote, we win.