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Allyne Caan / August 6, 2015

Voting Rights Act Is 50, and Some Are Still Living in 1965

The New York Times wants us to believe nothing’s changed.

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act. Tragically, five decades after blacks secured an unequivocally equal voice in American politics, Republicans have undertaken a concerted effort to silence them once again.

That’s the New York Times’ version, anyway.

In an editorial Wednesday, the Times claimed that for its first 48 years the VRA enjoyed incredible popularity (a debatable claim). Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court upended it all, effectively eliminating the requirement that certain states and localities with alleged histories of discrimination obtain federal permission before changing election laws. Justice Clarence Thomas was, of course, one of the five white men in the majority. Or something.

Per the Times, the decision has led to “appalling” voter ID laws and other “insidious” measures such as limitations on early voting and same day registration, all of which “disproportionately burden black voters.” Indeed, all those Republicans are “determined to undermine the right to vote.”

That must be it.

Or, is there more to the story than the Jesse Jackson-Al Sharpton version? Well, let’s look at the truth — a concept the Times long ago abandoned.

When the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized in 2006, conservatives raised valid concerns that the coverage formula determining which states required federal oversight had remained static since 1965. But disregarding changes in voter turnout and registration rates, as well as the percentage of minority elected officials, Congress reauthorized the law based on 40-year-old information, making the act illogical immediately upon enactment.

So, when the Court struck down Section 4, effectively restoring to the affected states and localities the authority to change certain election laws, Chief Justice John Roberts rightly noted, “Our country has changed. … While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

Indeed, our country has changed, and thank God it has in this regard. But truth matters not to those relying on race-baiting rhetoric —the Democrats eternally stuck in 1965. So, the argument continues that the supposed evisceration of the VRA has opened the door to anti-black voting laws intent on disenfranchisement.

Here again, let’s evaluate. Last year, opposing the elimination of same-day registration and voting in North Carolina, Justice Department expert witness Charles Stewart (also, coincidentally, working with the NAACP) claimed:

> “[It] would empirically more likely affect African-Americans. Also understanding within political science that people who register to vote the closer and closer one gets to Election Day tend to be less sophisticated voters, tend to be less educated voters, tend to be voters who are less attuned to public affairs. That also tells me from the literature of political science that there are likely to be people who will end up not registering and not voting. People who correspond to those factors tend to be African-Americans, and, therefore, that’s another vehicle through which African-Americans would be disproportionately affected by this law.”

In other words, blacks need special laws because they are “less sophisticated.” Now who’s racist?

Unfortunately, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Texas voter ID law Wednesday on the specious grounds that it was discriminatory against minorities. Never mind the sanctity of elections, and undermining the votes of citizens through voter fraud.

If voting advocates are so focused on ensuring blacks have a voice, why don’t they listen to what black voters have actually said? According to a 2014 Fox News poll, a slight majority (51%) of black voters actually support voter ID laws, while 46% oppose them. The majority is slim — largely due to the concerted campaign to frame such laws as racist — but nonetheless it reveals the lie behind the Times’ claim that requiring proof of identity amounts to a racist scheme to eliminate the black vote.

Then again, for a paper more interested in advancing a racially charged worldview than in reporting truth, this is hardly surprising.

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