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Don’t expect GOP to back Congressional boost to Voting Rights Act

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The instant the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act by knocking out the key provision requiring Justice Department pre-clearance before a locale can alter or institute new voting procedures, the call went up for Congress to restore some version of this requirement.

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder quickly added their voices to that call. The chances of that happening are nil if the GOP has its way.

The Supreme Court ruling was a dream come true for the GOP. It accomplished in one fell swoop what GOP leaders for the past three decades have loudly hinted they wanted done — water down the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act to the point of irrelevancy.

It floated several trial balloons in Congress in 1981 and again in 2006. The act came up for renewal both times. But Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush ignored the calls from GOP hardliners and even some of their advisers, who wanted them to delay signing the renewal authorization.

The argument was that the act continues to punish the South for its past history of blatant voting discrimination. But that past, the GOP claims, is just that — the past — and the proof is the thousands of black and Hispanic state and local elected officials from the South and Southwest and the millions of black and Hispanic voters that are on the rolls in those states.

The Supreme Court obviously bought this argument. The court majority deliberately ignored two glaring facts. One is the well-documented present day sneaky ways that local registrars devise ploys to limit or eliminate minority voters. The other is the wave of voter suppression laws that GOP governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures have plopped on the books during the past few years to shoo black and Hispanic voters from the polls.

Even though black and Hispanic voters did vote in big numbers in the 2012 election, in many districts they still had to stand in endless lines, have their IDs thoroughly scrutinized, had no bilingual ballots, found voting hours shortened, and had to file legal challenges in state and federal courts to get injunctions to stop the more onerous of the voter suppression laws from being enforced.

The GOP vote suppression ruses for the most part fell flat on their face in 2012 when black and Hispanic voters ducked around the fresh barriers put up and jammed the polls in near record numbers. They provided the numbers that insured President Obama’s reelection by a comfortable margin.

Though the GOP managed to maintain its grip on the five Deep South states, and other Old Confederacy states in the 2012 presidential election — almost exclusively with the majority votes of white conservatives — the increased number of black and Hispanics in the states poses a mortal threat to continued GOP dominance in those states. That is if there are no barriers propped up to their registering and voting.

This is exactly why the GOP banked heavily on the Supreme Court dumping the crucial provision in the Voting Rights Act that insured a fair voting process. GOP leaders also knew that once the conservative court majority ruled in is favor that some Democrats in Congress would almost certainly move to make-over the law.

One obvious way is to broaden out the pre-clearance provision to include other areas of the country that have had or could have potential voting restriction issues and then insuring that those jurisdictions be targeted for mandatory Justice Department monitoring. This would remove from the table the GOP’s ancient contention that the act unfairly targeted the South and some sections of the Southwest. This would easily pass constitutional muster since it would not single any one district, region or state for restrictive monitoring or Justice Department litigation.

But even this practical remake of the disputed parts of the act is anathema to the GOP. If proposed, GOP congressional leaders would dither, delay, and loudly squeal again that voter discrimination is non-existent. And that there is no need for adding another burdensome provision to the Voting Rights Act. It would certainly die a quick death in the GOP conservative controlled House.

The only real chance to resuscitate the key provision of the act is a congressional overhaul. That requires that Democrats hold or extend their numbers in the Senate and win back a majority in the House in the 2014 mid-term elections.

For the time being, though, the harsh reality is that five judges essentially nullified what two GOP presidents and Congress, with overwhelming bi-partisan support for the past near half century, have routinely done. And that’s to insure the much fought for and prized Voting Rights Act has stayed intact on the books to insure that a fair, equitable and democratic voting process remains the law of the land. Don’t expect the GOP to back that continued fight.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.