Courts

Minority Leaders Rallied at City Hall Today to Explain Why Texas Needs the Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments today challenging the constitutionality of and need for Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which requires Texas and other southern states with a history of suppressing the minority vote to get pre-clearance from the Feds before implementing changes to voting laws.

Naturally, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott will be front and center, after a federal judicial panel ruled that the state's strict voter ID law discriminated against minorities and the poor. A federal court struck down Texas' redistricting plan, characterizing it as an attempt to dilute the strength of minority voters.

Abbott says the voter ID law is necessary to prevent an epidemic of fraud and voter impersonation, if in fact you consider five illegal voting complaints filed with his office, for example, during the 2008 and 2010 elections an epidemic.

Supporters of Voting Rights Act say such voter ID laws demonstrate exactly why it is still needed. So they gathered today in Dallas City Hall, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, D.C., and elsewhere to register their fear of a Texas without the federal checks on gerrymandering and ID requirements at the polls -- tools, they say, of a political party desperate to maintain its grip on a state whose complexion is changing.

"We say that, far from proving Section 5 (the pre-clearance provision of the VRA) is no longer necessary, 2012 proved it is needed now more than ever," said Dr. Gerald Britt of CitySquare, an organization fighting poverty, in the first-floor atrium of City Hall.

Immigration lawyer and former Congressional candidate Domingo Garcia said the VRA was the sold reason Texas has so many Latino officials. "When we see bills attempting to suppress Latino voting, it's a way to try to do an ethnic cleansing of the political system."

Kelli Obazee of the Dallas Peace Center said voter purges and restrictions on early-voting access and valid IDs are "clear efforts by some politicians to manipulate the system to their advantage."

Meanwhile, on the steps of the Supreme Court, Congressman Marc Veasey said that "overt and deliberate racial discrimination is still used by leaders in Texas." During recent redistricting efforts, "minorities were packed or cracked precinct by precinct and block by block in order to deny hundreds of thousands of minority voters their right to elect the candidate of their choice. The right to vote and the right for one's voice to be heard through elected representation is a legally enacted constitutional right that many have bled and died for. Yet, we are still fighting for this very right. Some say it's time to move on, but my dear friends these rights are not just at risk but under attack."

For a little background, Texas wasn't initially included in the 1965 landmark legislation with Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and the others. The state wasn't subject to the law until 1975, when it provided election information only in English, despite Spanish speakers constituting more than five percent of voting-age citizens. Since then, the state and its political subdivisions have been subject to more than 200 pre-clearance objections from the Justice Department -- more than any other jurisdiction.

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Brantley Hargrove