The Devil They Know

Written by Jacob Perry Basseches on July 30, 2014


Thumbnail for the felony reinfranchisement campaign

Voter discrimination is alive and well, despite claims to the contrary by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby and others (“Thad Cochran’s victory shows voting rights well protected” 4/29/14), and an update to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is imperative to combat it.

State actions following the Supreme Court’s rejection last year of parts of the VRA speak to the necessity of modernizing the VRA to ensure the ongoing equity of American elections. Voter ID requirements,  which many see as “voter suppression laws,” work to stifle minority voices, often under the guise of anti-fraud measures. Proof of citizenship requirements, and the curtailment of early voting and Election Day registration in states like Texas, Virginia, and North Carolina, make it more difficult for many citizens to vote, particularly minorities, the elderly, and the poor.

Common Cause has endorsed the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) a bi-partisan bill, (H.R. 3899), with over 150 cosponsors. It  would provide urgent, common sense fixes and bring the VRA into compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. While Jacoby correctly argues that a regression to “Jim Crow-era” voter discrimination is unlikely, this reasoning should not serve as an excuse for complacency. The VRAA would expand the federal courts’ authority to protect citizens against violations of their voting rights, increase transparency, and counter the proliferation of discriminatory policies.

The recent razor-thin Republican primary victory of Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran over Tea Party insurgent Chris McDaniel is strong evidence that racially polarized voting continues, despite claims to the contrary from Jacoby and others. Although black voters in Mississippi played a key role in Cochran’s victory, this action reflects a justified fear of McDaniel and the Tea Party movement rather than a reaffirmation of voter equality, as Jacoby insists. Mississippians simply cast their lot with the devil they know (as Jacoby notes, an NAACP report gave incumbent Cochran an F on civil rights), rather than the devil they don’t know, particularly given McDaniel’s controversial association with the neo-confederate movement.

With discrimination resurging in the form of repressive voting laws that disproportionately impact at-risk voters, passage of the VRAA is critical to safeguard justice and equality at the polls. The bill is now stalled in Congress. You can write your member to demand swift action here.

Office: Common Cause Massachusetts

Issues: Voting and Elections, Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

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