Friday, June 28, 2013

Avoid The Appearance of Evil: The Voting Rights Act and Preclearance

The other day, the Supreme Court struck down Article IV of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, claiming the formula used to determine what states with histories of discrimination and voter disenfranchisement was outdated. Some officials in Georgia I've worked with in my capacity as a journalist have complained that Georgia and other states should not be singled out for additional burdens due to the sins of our parents and grandparents and that is a complaint I can understand. I remember during my first journalism job, extra work being required to ensure the city's redistricting met federal requirements.

However, many translations of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 say to "avoid the appearance of evil." Although the context of the verse seems to indicate the "avoid every kind of evil" translation is the better one, the principle is still a prudent one. Soon after Article IV was struck down, Texas and other states immediately made efforts to change their electoral set-ups through redistricting, voting IDs, etc. And this article here describes ways that voter disenfranchisement can take place, often at the local level at the whims of a few officials rather than vast racist conspiracies.

Ergo, to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing (and the shenanigans that I'm sure someone, somewhere is going to pull even thought the South today is not the same place it was 50 years ago), it would be a good idea to either:

1. Create a new pre-clearance formula using more up-to-date information. The New York Times article here has a bunch of suggestions for how to do it. Patrick Leahy has vowed immediate action, so hopefully he or his allies will have something soon.

2. Require universal pre-clearance in all jurisdictions so that it is not discriminatory against any particular state. Although the Constitution gives electoral responsibilities to the states, one could make a case using the 14th and 15th Amendments that this is necessary to prevent even the slightest possibility of disenfranchising voters. This would still leave the states running the elections, so it may not be a constitutional problem.

There's also an article I sent to one of my high-school friends some years back that used some kind of computerized process to draw voting-district boundaries. I can't find the link at the moment, but it would eliminate gerrymandering entirely while creating districts of equal population size.

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