The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 25, 2013

U.S. cannot take step back on voting rights

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

— Babies emerge from their mother’s womb as fully formed, functioning human beings.

But over time, they grow, they develop, they mature, they change and they finally reach adulthood. Even then, they don’t remain stagnant, but continue to progress, for the rest of their lives.

Thus it was with this nation. It sprang from the minds of its founders, fully formed and functioning, but has as much in common with today’s America as a newborn does with a middle-aged man.

The Founding Fathers developed the framework for democracy, and learned people have spent the last 237 years building on that structure.

Building, and remodeling. A piece of that remodeling took place Tuesday when the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The court kept the guts of the act in place — requiring nine states, primarily in the South, to get approval from the Justice Department or a special panel of judges before they enact any change in their voting laws. A dozen cities and 57 counties elsewhere also fall under the law.

The court’s ruling, announced Tuesday, says that Congress must update the formula for determining exactly which localities must get Washington’s OK before altering its voting regulations.

The court ruled the formula developed in 1965 is outdated and must be tweaked.

Civil rights activists decried the decision, while experts say it may endanger the future of the Voting Rights Act itself, given the fact the current Congress can’t agree it is raining when they are standing outside getting soaked together in a downpour.

A number of state and local voting laws currently in the pipeline awaiting approval from the Justice Department will now take affect.

The decision, in effect, opens the window for regulated localities to make changes to their election laws without restriction, at least until Congress acts.

Congress needs to put aside its political squabbles and act to update the formula that governs application of the voting rights act, and must do so in a timely fashion. The Voting Rights Act must be protected, at all costs.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence affixed their names to a document based on one pivotal phrase: “All men are created equal.”

Of course, at that time, equal didn’t really mean equal, and all men didn’t mean all men, either. It meant white men, with people of color and women left out in the rain.

But the bawling infant born on a hot Philadelphia July Fourth has grown, developed, changed.

Mind you, the change has not come easy. It’s been reminiscent of childbirth, in fact — loud, painful, messy and not for those with weak stomachs.

Further change, continued growth, ongoing development is to be expected. But all involved must keep one thing in mind: we cannot go back.

We cannot go back to the days of poll taxes, literacy tests and blatant intimidation that kept a large percentage of the population from voting. We cannot go back to the days when would-be voters of color were forced to pass nearly impossible tests, like being required to recite the entire Constitution from memory, in order to cast a ballot.

We cannot go back to the days when, in 1965, only 19 percent of blacks in Alabama were registered to vote, as compared to 69 percent of whites.

We cannot go back to the time when anyone was denied the right to vote because of their race or sex.

As far as we’ve come, racism still exists, as do sexism and discrimination. Unfortunately, we still need to be protected from our own frailties.

The Supreme Court’s decision has stripped away one layer of that protection. Congress must step up and close the loopholes opened by the justices, or risk having their approval rating drop to even more historic depths.

It is indeed raining, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time to prove you have the sense to come inside where it’s dry.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com