Social Work Allies Join Forces with Rock the Vote to Register Voters

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is partnering with Social Work Helper Magazine, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) on a nationwide Rock the Vote registration drive.

During the #SWRocktheVote campaign, which runs September 12-30, social workers and their allies are encouraged to each register five people to vote using the Social Work Helper mobile app, online registration forms or mail-in forms.

“NASW and the social work profession have a long history of ensuring everyone has the right to cast a ballot, dating back to social work’s role in the women’s suffrage movement a century ago and NASW’s involvement in the passage of the original Voting Rights Act in 1965,” NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW, said. “NASW is proud to be a part of this campaign with AASWSW, Social Work Helper, the Council on Social Work Education and Rock the Vote and encourages social workers reach out to their family members, friends and colleagues to see if they are registered to vote and encourage them to register if they have not done so.”

“This is an opportunity for a small individual action to make a huge collective impact that can be measured” says Deona Hooper, MSW, founder and editor-in-chief of Social Work Helper Magazine.

“The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) is all in on Rocking the Vote because we support civic engagement and understand that competent social behavior is critical to our nation’s success and voting for those who support social work and science is social behavior at its best,” said AASWSW President Richard Barth, PhD, MSW.

“Let’s use the power of over 750 accredited social work programs in the country, with over 100,00 students enrolled, to Rock the Vote!” urges Darla Spence Coffey, president and CEO of the Council on Social Work Education.

Thanks @RepBarbaraLee for helping us to launch #SWRockTheVote today. #socialwork #mentalhealth .@nasw .@aaswsworg pic.twitter.com/wd0YWa4hsN

— Social Work Helper (@swhelpercom) September 12, 2016

For more information on how to get involved with the campaign, including information on the Social Work Helper app, online voter registration web forms and downloadable mail-in voter registration forms go to: http://www.socialworkblog.org/advocacy/2016/09/join-swrockthevote-campaign/.

The Struggle For American Indian Voting Rights in South Dakota

Shannon County Vote
In places as isolated as Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, these satellite offices are essential to making voting a possibility for most residents
Last month, the Oglala Sioux Nation filed a voting rights lawsuit with the federal government for failing to put a pre-election satellite voting and registration site on the portion of Pine Ridge Reservation which sits in Jackson County, South Dakota. Despite having money apportioned by the Help America Vote Act to address just this sort of issue, Jackson County has yet to place a satellite office in Wanblee, the largest Indian reservation town in the county. While at the same time, the largely white residential off-reservation county seat of Kadoka, which actually has a smaller population than Wanblee, maintains a satellite voting office. Instead of being able to vote within a reasonable distance of their community, the people of Wanblee have to travel 54 miles round-trip to register and cast their ballots. 54 mile in the cold, inhospitable snow of a South Dakota November on poorly maintained roads that are made of dirt as often as they are asphalt.

These are the sorts of bigotry, harassment and human rights violations faced on a regular basis  by American Indians seeking equal access to the ballot box. The discrimination that they endure is remarkably similar to that of African-Americans and Latinos, but odds are that you hadn’t been thinking about the voting rights of American Indians. In fact, outside of the #ChangeTheName controversy surrounding Washington DC’s professional football team, I doubt that American Indians have crossed many of your minds recently. This may be in part because there are only 1.9 million American Indians in this country and you don’t have much direct interaction with them, but I think it is also because the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the fifties and sixties was almost exclusively an African-American movement.

What happens to an injustice unheard? On their own, many people—along with the local and state governments who represent them—will plug up their ears with cotton balls and blot out the sounds of injustice and oppression that surround them, while others still will hear the wails of injustice and track them down like bloodhounds so they can shove their hands over the mouths of the moaning. That’s why sometimes it becomes necessary for the Federal government to remove the cotton from the callous, cauliflowered ears of the oppressive and the bigoted and demand that they listen.

More so than any other civil right in America’s history, suffrage has required Federal intervention in order to be preserved and it is not a coincidence that the right to vote under the equal protection of the law is the focus of no less than four Constitutional amendments. The first two—the 14th and the 15th amendment—were forged in the fires of The Civil War and established during Reconstruction, a 12 year period where more than 2,000 African-American men held public office in the South. Of course, these political gains were only made possible by the physical presence of former Union soldiers in formerly Confederate towns and as soon as the Republican Party made their deal with the devil in 1877 and agreed to remove those troops in exchange for a Rutherford B. Hayes White House it was all over.

Almost overnight all trace of the black politician was swept away by poll taxes, literacy tests, Jim Crow laws and lynch mobs and black suffrage was suppressed for more than 75 years until the sacrifices of the Civil Rights Movement birthed the Voting Rights Act in an attempt to provide all Americans with equal voting rights and representation in government. Yet, even today, in what a startling number of young Americans consider a “post-racial” society, the percentage of African-American representation in Congress from southern states (11.25%)(1) is still considerably less than it was in 1870 (15%). And all of this was before the Supreme Court disassembled the Voting Rights Act and gave states that were once beholden to the federal government for preclearance of all voting laws free rein to disenfranchise people of color, the elderly and the poor.

There are many aspects of race-based voter discrimination that Chief Justice John Roberts and the other 4 men who voted to neuter the Voting Rights Act (VRA) last year wholly fail to comprehend or care about, but there are none more important than the fact that racism and oppression do not live in a vacuum and that past progress does not prevent against future regression. In his majority opinion for Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts reiterated time and time again the fact that, “things have changed dramatically” in the 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was created and consequently uses those changes as the principle reason why section 4 of the VRA should be struck down(2), as if the law’s efficacy was somehow grounds for rendering it toothless.

In his opinion, Roberts writes that, “the [15th] Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future,” failing to comprehend that this “punishment” is constantly being reinvoked by states and counties who continue to brazenly discriminate against their minority citizens. All a given state or county has to do is follow the VRA’s instructions and not get caught trying to engage in voter discrimination for 10 years in a row and they’re “bailed out” of Section 5. In effect, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is the equivalent of probation and parole for state and local governments who have committed the crime of denying people of the right to free and equitable elections. If you get released from prison on 2 years parole for selling narcotics and your P.O. Catches you slinging dope, you’re going to be headed back to prison. It’s the same principle with discriminatory states under the VRA.

Of course, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with even a tenuous grasp on reality that the states who were saddled with preclearance requirements under Section 5—and quite a few that weren’t—have wasted no time in enacting as many restrictive and discriminatory voting laws as possible since the Shelby County v Holder ruling. During the first year post-preclearance, 7 of the 9 states that were singled out under Section 5 of the VRA pushed through laws that restricted voting rights. States are enacting unnecessary and prohibitive voter ID laws, eliminating same-day registrations, purging qualified citizens from voter rolls and, as was recently the case in my home state of Ohio, cutting back early voting days for no just reason whatsoever.

If there is a silver lining to the fallout of the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s that it has lit a fire underneath many communities in America and it has directed the attention of the media and activists in ways that could result in enhanced voter turnout, higher political awareness andpossibly the passage of new legislation that makes the Voting Rights Act even more effective than it was before. However, the media coverage of the VRA and the efforts of the vast majority of voting rights litigators and scholars have focused almost exclusively on how the changes effect African-American and Latino voters.

This is certainly understandable considering the fact that they are the 2 largest racial minorities in America and that voter discrimination in both the past and present has impacted them in a greater and more visible way than any other section of American society, but it largely ignores the struggles of other minority groups who will suffer just as much from the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act.

250 years ago, before the prolonged presence of American settlers, the Great Sioux Nation—known to its members as the “Oceti Ŝakowiŋ” or Seven Council Fires—held dominion over most of the Northern Plains.To the east, in what is now modern-day Minnesota, northern Iowa and the easternmost edge of the Dakotas, lived the Santee or Eastern Dakota. Next to them, in the eastern half of the Dakotas were the Yankton or Yanktonai, which are sometimes confusingly referred to as the Western Dakota. And then, beside them, in western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska lived the Teton or Lakota people.

Within a hundred years time, the Great Sioux Nation had been effectively driven apart by white settlements and white soldiers. To make a long and bloody story short, the second half of the 19th Century was little more than an unbroken string of violated treaties wherein the United States took Sioux land that wasn’t theirs in exchange for the false promise of peace and security on the Sioux land that they planned to take in the future. In the span of roughly 100 years, the Great Sioux Nation had gone from a powerful group of allied tribes that could lay claim to much of the Great Plains to a collection of splintered and suppressed peoples who had been relegated to life on reservations on the parcels of their land that whites could find little use for.

Along with their land, the Sioux—and all of the tribes around them that were not wiped from the face of this earth by the inexorable hand of Manifest Destiny—lost their sovereignty and self-determination. In the days of the Seven Council Fires, the Sioux would hold intertribal councils during the summer months, with a spokesperson from each of the 7 tribes coming together to govern intertribal affairs. Each tribe was made up of several bands and the intertribal spokespeople were usually the chief of the most power band in their respective tribe. Once the reservation system had been imposed on them, the Sioux and all other American Indians(3) and (eventually) Alaskan Natives effectively became wards of the state and were treated as second class citizens in the eyes of the law.

Sioux reservation land from 1851 to today

Even after the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 made all American Indians US citizens and gave them the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendments, most were still prohibited from voting. Many western states like Montana dealt with the threat of Indian suffrage by adding amendments to their state constitutions and forbidding American Indians on reservations from voting on the grounds that they were not considered taxpaying citizens.

Other states, like Wyoming and Arizona took pages out of the deep south’s playbook and instituted literacy tests as a means of halting American Indian suffrage. South Dakota didn’t even bother with masking it’s blatant bigotry and flouting of the Constitution by keeping a law on the books that prohibited all American Indians from voting until the 1940s, while the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 1956 that Indians could be barred from voting because they were, “neither acquainted with the processes of government, nor conversant with activities of the outside world generally.” And, even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many American Indians faced open discrimination from state and local governments until an extension of the VRA was passed a decade later specifying coverage for “language minorities” like American Indians.

In 1975, two South Dakota counties—Shannon County and Todd County—were made subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Both counties had a long history of voting discrimination and institutionalized racism and both were the homes of Indian reservations, with Shannon County containing the Pine Ridge Reservation and Todd County holding the Rosebud Reservation. If you’ve heard of either Pine Ridge or Rosebud before, it probably wasn’t for the best of reasons. Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations are living breathing testaments to the horrors of colonialism and the perpetual poverty that is guaranteed to communities with little-to-no socioeconomic resources. On the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations at least 80 percent of the population is unemployed, as many as 4 out of every 5 adults suffer from alcoholism and/or addiction, infant mortality is 3 times the national rate, suicide rates for youth are 10 times the national average and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge is lower than every other part of the Western Hemisphere besides Haiti.

As is often the case with socioeconomically depressed regions, the Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge and the Sicangu Sioux of Rosebud, have experienced some of the most reprehensible attempts to eliminate or weaken their suffrage in America’s recent history. In 1975, long after the equal voting had become the law of the land and black voter turnout was hovering around 50% in presidential elections, the state of South Dakota was still prohibiting residents of almost exclusively Indian “unorganized counties” like Shannon, Todd and Washabaugh(4) from voting in the elections of the counties to which they were attached andprohibited residents of those counties from holding office until as late as 1980.

Shortly after the Voting Rights Act had been amended to cover American Indians, then South Dakota Attorney General William Janklow wrote a formal opinion to South Dakota’s Secretary of State, in which he referred to the Voting Rights Act as a “facial absurdity” and wrote that, “I cannot in good faith recommend that [the Secretary of State’s] office and the State Board of Elections be unnecessarily subjected to the bureaucratic agony of obtaining immediate preclearance of all voting legislation and regulations.”

In other words, South Dakota’s Attorney General just recommended that the state government ignore the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and hoped it would be repealed by Congress or declared unconstitutional in the near future. It would seem that South Dakota state officials heard Attorney General Janklow loud and clear as they enacted over 600 laws concerning elections and voting in Shannon and Todd Counties that were covered by Section 5 of the VRA between 1976 and 2002 and sent less than 2 percent of them to Washington for preclearance. In the words of former ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald, “Many jurisdictions in the South also failed to comply with Section 5 in the years following their coverage. But in none was the failure as deliberate and prolonged as in South Dakota.”

Over the past 30 years, the strategies of predominantly white governments, counties and municipalities in America for negating the impact of minority voting blocs have shifted from outright voter suppression to a more indirect approach. One of the preferred modes of neutralizing the American Indian vote has been voter dilution, a process by which a state, county or local government redraws their districts so as to concentrate as much of the American Indian population into as few districts as possible to lessen number of elections they can seriously effect. After the 2000 census, the South Dakota legislature put forth a redistricting plan that turned District 27, an overwhelmingly Indian district that contains Pine Ridge Reservation, from one of the most underpopulated districts into one of it’s most overpopulated.

To do this,the legislature made a change in the boundary lines between District 27 and District 26, another mostly Indian district that includes Rosebud Reservation, packing District 27 with American Indians and leaving them without a large enough population in District 26 to ensure that Indian-preferred candidates had a chance at winning.

Another way the existing white power structure in South Dakota is trying to disenfranchise American Indians is through the simple act of making it as difficult and inconvenient for them to vote as possible. This tactic, which manifests itself in other states through the enactment of stringent voter ID laws, reduced early voting days and the repeal of same-day registration, is primarily borne out in South Dakota through the failure to provide American Indians with satellite voting and registration offices, using tribes’s socioeconomic shortcomings against them.

Indian reservations are typically located in remote areas and are often self-contained, so that many of the people living on the reservation rarely, if ever, go outside of its borders. Beyond that, many American Indians don’t have access to a car to reach far off polling places and, even if they did, might find they’re unable to scrounge up the gas money to make the trip.

For those who are skeptical, I urge you to take note of the events from the Civil Rights era that come to mind. When I think on it, the images I see are of sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina and bloody marches in Selma, Alabama; I envision Dr. King speaking of his dreams in front of a packed National Mall and I think about the bodies of 3 civil rights workers being buried on a hot Mississippi night during Freedom Summer. At no point do I think about “No Indians or Dogs Allowed signs” in Wyoming during the 1960s or the Occupation of Wounded Knee, because these things aren’t part of our mainstream narrative of civil rights in America.

They aren’t part of our narrative, but they should be. Civil rights movements are not mutually exclusive and there is no cause too remote or removed from our personal experience to be fought. Many of us may not live near a reservation or interact with American Indians in our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold ourselves as responsible for their voting rights as we do any other race or ethnicity. First and foremost, voter discrimination is not a southern problem; nor is it an African-American problem, a Latino problem or an American Indian problem. It is an American problem and it’s about time we treated it as such.

Analysis of Shelby v Holder: the Downfall of the Voters Right Act of 1965

 

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The Supreme Court struck a blow to efforts preventing racial discrimination in voting as a result of Shelby v Holder coming before the high court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (the “coverage formula”), which determines which parts of the country are covered by Section 5 of the Act. Section 5 requires those “covered” jurisdictions (the jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination, and which continue to demonstrate discriminatory behavior) to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before making any change in law that would affect voting. The Court said the formula used to decide which parts of the country are “covered” is unconstitutional, so for now there are no covered jurisdictions. The Court has created a result in which Section 5 cannot be applied anywhere.

When the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized in 2006, Congress compiled thousands of pages of evidence that voting discrimination was still happening in the jurisdictions identified in the coverage formula. It was on this strong evidence that Congress decided to continue the application of Section 5 to the jurisdictions identified by Section 4.

Chief Justice Roberts authored the majority opinion which ignored all of the evidence compiled by Congress in its 2006 decision reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. Instead, the Chief Justice wrongly focused on the reasons that justified the coverage formula in 1965—reasons that were not the justifications used in 2006. The majority opinion repeatedly discussed the injury to equal state sovereignty created by having only certain jurisdictions be subject to Section 5. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress did not adequately connect the coverage formula to current political realities. This position makes no sense when viewed with the evidence of recent voting discrimination in covered jurisdictions. The Court also departed from its standard deference to Congress—the elected officials that are best equipped to determine what kinds of voting rights protections are still necessary.

Justice Ginsberg drafted a powerful dissenting opinion, pointing out the flaws in the majority’s reasoning. The dissent also lifted up some of the stories of devastating discrimination in voting, including the significantly higher rate of successful cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in covered jurisdictions. She pointed out the error of halting Section 5 protections because they have been so effective. Indeed, she noted that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Still, hope remains. The majority opinion noted that “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.” Section 5 still stands, but Congress must act quickly to enact a new coverage formula, as the Court suggests. Protecting the right to vote is a bipartisan goal, and voting rights advocates will be pushing Congress to do the right thing—to restore the Voting Rights Act and respect the right of every American to participate in the political process.

Read the Shelby v Holder Supreme Court Case in Full:

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Voting Rights Act, Privileges, and Immunities of United States Constitution

George WillAs I scanned newspaper opinions on the recent US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 4 of Voting Rights Act of 1965, political columnist George Will’s Washington Post article immediately stood out.  He proposes that Justice Anton Scalia might have referred to the name of the 2006 extension as the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act.”   George Will stated upholding the United States Congress’ 2006 reauthorization would have been “anti-constitutional”.  What does he mean by “anti-constitutional”, and why not the “John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Martin Luther King Reauthorization and Amendments Act?”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.) prohibits States and their political subdivisions from imposing voting requirements or preconditions to voting, as well as standards, practices, or procedures that deny or curtail the right of a U.S. citizen to vote because of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.  Congress based its power to approve voting procedures on the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

  • Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

  • Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

I would ask Mr. Will, why the reauthorization is “anti-constitutional”.  The 15th Amendment does not provide any specific formula nor does it require any specific benchmark for Congress to remedy its application. The decision by the Supreme Court is more of a legislative action rather than a judiciary explanation.

The Fourteenth Amendment was written to attack the effects of State policies adopted under the stimulus of unambiguously pro-slavery and racist doctrines.  The drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment sought to strengthen and increase the reach of the old Privileges and Immunities Clause. Consequently, one of its first proposals for the Fourteenth Amendment was to give Congress the power both to enforce the clause and to confirm that all persons be protected in their person and property.

On April 28 of 1866, the “Joint Committee of Fifteen” voted in favor of a second draft proposed by Congressman John Bingham, which would eventually be adopted into the Constitution.  On May 10 of 1866 during the closing debate on the House floor, Congressman Bingham the primary author of the Privileges & Immunities Clause explained:

“[M]any instances of State injustice and oppression have already occurred in the State legislation of this Union, of flagrant violations of the guarantied privileges of citizens of the United States, for which the national Government furnished and could furnish by law no remedy whatever…”

The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868.  The amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues, as earlier indicated, related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment specified in Section 1 of the amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States” as citizens of the United States were citizens of the state in which they reside. This section also prohibited state governments from denying persons within their jurisdiction the privileges or immunities of U.S. citizenship, and guarantees to every such person due process and equal protection of the law.

Sections 2 to 5 reflect the immediate concerns of the Union’s political leadership following the North’s victory over the South in the Civil War (1861–65). Section 2, for example, penalized any state that attempted to abridge (curtail) the voting rights of its black male residents by reducing the state’s representation in Congress (there were no female residents of any race afforded the constitutional right to vote in the United States until 1920). Section 3 prohibited from holding state or federal office any person who engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” or otherwise gave “aid or comfort to the enemies” during the Civil War. Section 4 reasserted the United States’ commitment to pay its Civil War debt, while declaring all debts and obligations incurred by the Confederate government as “illegal and void”. Section 5 enabled, and continues to enable, Congress to pass “appropriate legislation” to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Given the history and purposes of the 14th and 15th Amendments, the Justice Department should be confident in its administrative efforts to curtail any State’s attempt to abridge American citizen’s right to vote.

SCOTUS Strikes Down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

by Logan Keziah

supreme courtOn Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down what some consider to be one of the most important parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4, is the part of the Voting Rights Act that was designed to protect minority and vulnerable voting demographics from being targeted in voter suppression efforts. The formula included in this section subjected many states and jurisdictions, primarily in the south, to federal oversight regarding changes in elections laws, and redistricting maps. The overall reasoning behind the court’s decision to strike down the section can be summed up best by Chief Justice Roberts as quoted in NBC News:

Roberts cited census data showing that black voter turnout now exceeds white turnout in five of the six states originally covered by the law.

“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Read Full Article

The Court’s decision ultimately said congress needs to determine a more updated formula for determining which states would be required to get preclearance as outlined by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. At first glance, the decision doesn’t appears to recognize the progress that has been made in the past 48 years when the bill was first enacted.  Why not reevaluate the way preclearance states are determined. However let’s look deeper at the issue.

The republican controlled house and democratic controlled senate cannot seem to find common ground on anything. The house is busy debating unconstitutional regulations on women’s reproductive health and further voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This current climate prevents them from exerting energy on important and pressing issues that polls have shown are in the forefront of the American people’s minds on issues such as comprehensive background checks, Immigration reform, the student debt crisis, and the country’s unsteady economy. Congress could come together now and decide on a new formula to protect some of the most vulnerable individuals in the country from efforts to suppress their votes. However, this option does not seem remotely possible.

Secondly, should congress actively take up the job of developing a new formula for pre-clearance while many states will be free to move forward with legislation changing voting laws that disproportionately affect minority and vulnerable populations without having them checked by the Department of Justice. Research shows that States with pending voter ID legislation would disproportionately affect minority, senior, and student voters. Proposed legislation seeks to shorten early voting, do away with same day registration, and/or other measures that ultimately restrict voting access. Many of the states can now push forward with their conservative cooked up legislation without barriers.

The full implications of the Supreme Court’s decision is difficult to determine, and ultimately Congress does have the ability to develop a new measure to protect these vulnerable populations from discriminatory voting law changes.  However, it is highly unlikely. As far as the court’s ruling,  Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. supported striking section 4 from the Voting Rights Act, and Justices Ruth Bader, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

Supreme Court Guts the Voting Rights Act of 1965

 

Supreme Court

Community organizing is even more critical after the United States Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key provision from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 earlier today. Voting rights suffered an unnecessary setback with the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder (June 25, 2013).  Section 5 is a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which requires certain jurisdictions, identified in Section 4 of the Act, to get preclearance before implementing any changes affecting voting.  In an opinion not consistent with decades of Supreme Court precedent, this Court struck down Section 4 deemed the coverage formula which determined which states and counties had to obtain preclearance before changing its voting laws.  Without the coverage formula, states with histories of discriminatory voting practices do not have to consult with the Department of Justice before changing its voting laws.  The Court has effectively removed any barriers preventing re-implementation of legislation that prejudices the voting rights of vulnerable populations.

How Can I Help

One of the most important elements of Section 5 is the notification requirements and comment processes the Voting Rights Act established and the centralized flow of information through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).  Since the implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions had to seek input from affected minority voters, and submit information about the proposed change to DOJ.  They are no longer required to do so. Now, organizations on the ground will need to develop a procedure for collecting and disseminating this vital information.

  • Voting rights advocates and communities still have options for challenging discriminatory voting laws, but they’ll have to be more proactive in bringing those challenges.  We can no longer rely on the Section 5 process.  Grassroots community organizers should begin by identifying voting rights experts and attorneys that have the capacity to help challenge bad voter laws.  The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is one of those resources in many areas, and we can refer you to resources in geographic areas we don’t have the capacity to help.  E-mail us at info@southerncoalition.org.
  • This is critical: we need community organizations on the ground to track changes and potential changes in voting laws.  There are jurisdictions who will try to pass bad changes under the radar.  Develop a plan to have your representatives at county commission, school board and city council meetings, so that you can be aware of proposed changes.  Develop relationships with county boards of elections so that you will have another avenue for notification of changes to election laws.  Identify any changes to voting laws that may have already been enacted, but were not yet implemented because of Section 5. Also, identify when those changes may become effective and establish a reporting system for immediate dissemination.
  • Working with the voting rights experts and attorneys you’ve identified at  either SCSJ and other groups. Develop a mechanism for communicating potential changes in voting laws.  Attorneys will need to file lawsuits and seek preliminary injunctions and seek rulings from courts halting the implementation of bad voting laws.  But we can’t file those lawsuits unless we know about the changes.  Decide on a plan for conveying information about changes in law.

The best way to fight back against changes that will be detrimental to voters of color is to elect officials who will be respectful of voting rights which means voter registration and Get Out The Vote work is even more critical.  Let potential voters know their voting rights are at stake. Let’s get them registered and make sure they cast their vote on Election Day!

For Information on North Carolina Voter ID Laws, view below:

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Scalia Calls Voting Rights Act of 1965 A Racial Entitlement

by Deona Hooper, MSW

State of the Union
Desiline Victors at the Presidential State of the Union 2013

After opening arguments at the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it appears the landmark civil rights legislation is in trouble. Justice Antonin Scalia called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement” which drew large criticism from onlookers as well as other Supreme Court Justices. This statement is especially polarizing after Desiline Victor, the 102 year old African-American woman,  who was in line for six hours to vote in the presidential election 2012. Many Americans, both white and of color, were outraged at the voter restriction legislation put in place by Republican led legislatures in order to reduce democratic turnout in battleground states. Democratic voters of all ages and color went out in record numbers to vote with a vengeance. President Obama won 11 out of 12 battleground states with the exception of North Carolina which was lost with less than 100,000 votes.

Despite a popular vote win with 2.6 million votes over Mitt Romney, many state legislatures retained Republican control or gained a Republican super-majority which means the House, Senate, and Governor are controlled by the GOP. Did the massive lines single to Republicans that the American people will not stand for voter restrictions laws? No, it only singled to them that their plan is working which may bring them the desired effect in another 10 years which is a gerrymandered federal election. The GOP has utilized think tanks for decades planning not only for the next four to 8 years. They were planning for the next forty years to return this country back to the status quo of whites only making decisions and running all levels of government as well as the private sector.

The civil rights movement occurred because it was a joint effort between whites and people of color, and the GOP did not plan for another mass exodus of White Americans in Election 2012 who have embraced equality and diversity for all in this great country.  It’s time for progressives to do more than sign petitions and starting strategically planning for the next couple of decades to restore a balance of power back to our local governments and state legislatures. Will the US Supreme Court seek retribution for the right after upholding the Affordable Health Care Act as constitutional? Stay tuned for the summer block buster for diversity and equality with both DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Voter’s Rights Act of 1965 before the Supreme Court.

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