As we all know, the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. In the 5-4 decision the court declared unconstitutional a section of the law that established a formula to identify state and local governments that were required to get approval from the federal government before they made changes to their voting laws.
The ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito andClarence Thomas, found that “things have changed dramatically” in the south nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was signed.”
The irony is that while striking down this key provision the court recognized that “There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act,” and that “The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.”
In the court’s view the protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act are no longer needed because after 50 years Alabama and the other state and local jurisdictions are now all playing nice and by the rules.
While there certainly has been progress, it is more important that we watch very closely what they and other Republican controlled state legislatures are now doing to further voter suppression. And this is not just a black/white issue. Since the 2010 mid-term elections, Republican-led legislatures in some states (including some not covered under the Voting Rights Act) have decided that some voices must not be heard. During the 2012 election attempts at voter suppression came in many forms. In addition to trying to implement photo ID requirements, early voting was targeted in some states because it tends to benefit low-income workers while at the same time polling places in low-income or minority areas were intentionally reduced. And in some states students were no longer allowed to register using their school address, or student IDs were no longer accepted.
As Republicans move to suppress our vote, all targeted groups need to respond with the fervor African-Americans did in 2012. In response to their tactics African-Americans got motivated and voted at a higher rate than other minority groups and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time. Now is the time to organize for action. If Republicans implement their voter ID agenda, our church, campus, community and political organizations need to mobilize to identify voters who will need to meet the new requirements and take action now. “Souls to the Polls” needs to move beyond just being a church activity conducted during an election year.
During my military career I learned that nothing motivated the troops more than a clear and present danger. The action of the Supreme Court has presented us with just such a danger. We can respond by wringing our hands and moaning about it or we can stand up and fight. I opt for the latter.
Michael E. Waters