Is The Voting Rights Act Needed Or Outdated? The U.S. Supreme Court Is Deciding

Feb 27, 2013

Credit Associated Press/Alex Brandon

After hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of key provisions in the Voting Rights Act, Wednesday, it’s now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the law should stick around.  

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a federal law requiring some states and certain counties with a history of discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making changes to their elections process. Five of those counties are in Florida. They’re Hendry, Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough and Monroe. But some say the provision requiring preclearance is unconstitutional and more than that it’s outdated.

“We’re punishing states, localities for things that happened decades ago that in many cases we’ve already righted those wrongs and moved on from them,” said Project 21 Spokesman Coby Dillard.

Project 21 is a national network of black conservatives. It’s throwing its weight behind a case from Shelby County Alabama that claims congress didn’t account for “current conditions” when it renewed the Voting Right Act in 2006. And Dillard said the measure’s constitutionality is also under question.

“Basically, congress was given the power to enforce the 15th amendment by legislation. But that enforcement provision, under no interpretation that I’ve seen, you can’t get to, well, congress can make states go to the government to change their voting laws. Because running elections isn’t under the purview of the federal government, it’s the purview of the states and locality where the election is held,” Dillard said.

Meanwhile, Brenda Hoots, the elections supervisor in Hendry County, one of Florida’s affected counties, said she can see good and bad sides to the law. For example, any changes the county might want to make, like changing a voting location, are slowed down—though she says that’s also not necessarily a bad thing.

You know, as far as where a polling place is. Sometimes when we change things, the voters are upset, because it’s a change. They don’t like change very well, and they get used to things being one way and they depend on that. So, in that way I think the preclearance is good," Hoots said.

And no matter what the court rules, Hoots said she feels confident she’ll be able to provide all her constituents with a fair opportunity to vote. But Deirdre Macnab with the Florida League of Women Voters said she’s not sure it’ll be easy for elections supervisors to make that happen without the Voting Rights Act.

“The practice of manipulating our voter laws is down to a fine art in the state of Florida. And that is why we continue to believe very strongly that the national Voting Right Act is still very much needed in our country," Macnab said.

During the court hearing the justices argued on both sides of the law, but many experts are now saying they expect at least part of the law to be struck down when the court issues its ruling.

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