Letter: Racism, bigotry exist, so Voting Rights Act needed

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 11:10 PM

Editor:

The Supreme Court of this nation will soon decide if an important part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) will be upheld. The challenge is being brought against Section 5, which requires those areas with a history of racial discrimination not be allowed to make voting law changes without clearance from the US Justice Department or a Federal Court.

The VRA was proposed by President Lyndon Johnson in a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965. It addressed the lawless conduct by southern officials determined to deny black people the right to vote. The first march from Selma, Ala. for voting rights, marred by violence against marchers, had occurred on March 7, 1965.

Congress, in large bipartisan majorities, has repeatedly found that Section 5 is needed to address voter discrimination. Shelby County, Ala., backed by The Project on Fair Representation, a conservative legal organization, is making the challenge to the VRA.

In 2008, Shelby County, along with more than 100 counties and municipalities in Alabama, was the subject of a federal block on voting related changes. The clustering of voters by race and class made it virtually impossible for black and Latino populations to win city or county elections. Evergreen, Ala. (Conecuh County) had its most recent election blocked by the Justice Department for violations of Section 5 of the VRA. The 4,000-person town is 63 percent black, but the majority of city council seats are held by white politicians. (Huffington Post - 2/28/2013)

In 2006, the city of Calera, Ala. (Shelby County) was ordered by the Justice Department to redraw a non-discriminatory redisricting plan which had previously violated Section 5 and led to the loss of the city’s lone black councilman. (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund - 2/28/2013)

This challenge to Section 5 reflects the contention by those involved that the issue of voter discrimination has been settled. Section 5 works, so now get rid of it. The events during this last election prove otherwise. If anything, there is a need for extension and coverage of other jurisdictions.

In a country that routinely sacrifices the lives of its people in service to their country, all for the promotion of democracy and fair elections elsewhere, no one in this country should have to bring a chair, water and food to vote and submit to the schemes of a politician or party that places unnecessary obstacles to voting all in the name of non-existing voter fraud. When clearly the reason is changing voter ethnicities and being unable to compete on their own merits.

As long as mankind exists, conquering racism and bigotry will be as elusive as world peace. At best, they will only lie dormant or in remission. Barriers must remain to prevent a relapse. The struggle for the right to vote and civil rights by our fellow citizens continues to be ongoing. The civil rights movement and lessons learned should never be forgotten. Hopefully a majority of the Supreme Court understands this.

Bill Dayton

Sevierville