Why We Need the Voting Rights Act


“The First Vote”, wood engraving by Alfred Rudolph Waud, from the title page of Harper’s Weekly 11 (568) November 16, 1867.

Many of us are too young to remember the 1960s or never experienced the systematic racism found in certain states in that era, so in light of last week’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder which overturned Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, it is helpful to recall the historical context which made the Voting Rights Act an essential part of our democracy.

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote by declaring that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote.

Following the jump is an example of a “literacy” test which was used in Louisiana in 1964. On its face (prima facie) the test is “unbiased;” nothing in the test explicitly favors one race over another. However, the test is clearly designed so that no one can truly succeed — especially a would-be black voter with access only to the sort of education provided to blacks in the South at that time. “Designed to put the applicant through mental contortions, the test’s questions are often confusingly worded. If some of them seem unanswerable, that effect was intentional. The (white) registrar would be the ultimate judge of whether an answer was correct.”

Find out if you would have been allowed to vote in Louisiana prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

The test follows the jump. Click here for the “answers”.

Why Not Replace Texas With Puerto Rico And Make Everyone Happy?

Last week on election day, Puerto Ricans were asked their preference for the future of their island, currently an unincorporated territory of the United States. A large majority 809,000 voted for statehood, while 73,000 voted for independence and 441,000 voted for sovereign free association. Becoming a state would require approval by Congress. However, Republicans can be expected to oppose statehood of heavily Democratics Puerto Rico, just as they opposed attributed Congressional representation to Washington DC.

However, while Puerto Ricans are eager to strengthen their ties with the United States, some conservatives living in Red States are so disappointed with the election results that have petitioned the White House to allow their states to secede from the union.

According to Dana Milbank,

The White House, in one of those astro-turf efforts that make people feel warm about small-d democracy, launched a “We the People” program on its Web site last year, allowing Americans to petition their government for a redress of grievances. Any petition that receives 25,000 or more signatures within 30 days is promised a response (though not necessarily a favorable one) from the Obama administration.

And so a large number of patriotic Americans, mostly from states won by Mitt Romney last week, have petitioned the White House to let them secede. They should be careful about what they wish for. It would be excellent financial news for those of us left behind if Obama were to grant a number of the rebel states their wish “to withdraw from the United States and create [their] own NEW government” (the petitions emphasize “new” by capitalizing it).

Red states receive, on average, far more from the federal government in expenditures than they pay in taxes. The balance is the opposite in blue states. The secession petitions, therefore, give the opportunity to create what would be, in a fiscal sense, a far more perfect union.

Among those states with large numbers of petitioners asking out:

  • Louisiana (more than 28,000 signatures at midday Tuesday), which gets about $1.45 in federal largess for every $1 it pays in taxes;
  • Alabama (more than 20,000 signatures), which takes $1.71 for every $1 it puts in;
  • South Carolina (13,000), which takes $1.38 for its dollar; and
  • Missouri (16,000), which takes $1.29 for its dollar.

The first such petition (94,864 signatures so far) was for Texas:

Peacefully grant the State of Texas to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government.

This is not a new idea. Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed it three years ago. (See this video for the eager response by Keith Oberman.)

Hardin County Republican treasurer Peter Morrison writes “”Why should Vermont and Texas live under the same government? Let each go her own way.”

Meanwhile Doc Jess of DemConWatch writes:

For one reason, and one reason alone, I was in favour of Rick’s idea back then, and still am now. That’s the redistribution of their 38 Electoral College votes. And to a lesser extent the movement of that fence from the Mexican border to the Texas abutments with New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Of course, there are great benefits to the remainder of America if Texas goes: there are 52 Fortune 500 companies in Texas. While the oil industry might stay in this new country, it’s likely that AT&T, Dell, Whole Foods, Sysco, Kimberly-Clark, Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, and a host of others, will be looking for new places for their headquarters. Not to mention the 7 Air Force bases, 4 Army bases, and 3 Navy bases. Plus the economies that depend on them.

It will be tough for Texas when 37% of their income disappears. Not just from those companies and bases mentioned, but from the Federal receipts the state receives.