The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is alive and well, thank you. You might not think so, given the great outcry and hand wringing that appeared in the media when the Supreme Court ruled that parts of the law, notably, "section four," are not now as constitutionally valid as they were when written. The law itself was not nullified or overturned. Instead, the court majority ruled that because the statistical facts used to justify the remedies in the 1965 law were no longer valid, the law was obsolete. Congress now has the responsibility to modernize the law using current voting data.
Of the 13 states whose election procedures were singled out to be scrutinized by the government, nine were found to have made so much progress in desegregating their polls that the law was no longer necessary. In Mississippi, for example, the court pointed out, a higher percentage of black people are registered to vote than the white people in the state. In several states more black people voted than white people did in 2013. Ironically, one of the four states whose voting procedures are still suspect is super-liberal New York. Several urban counties there are still governed by the law.
The critics of the court who wail that the old Jim Crow voting practices will return by 2014 should take a breath and calm down. Insisting that black voters are incapable of voting without a federal supervisor protecting them is insulting to the very voters they say they are protecting. They are also insulting the other voters in the nine southern states affected by the ruling. The year 1965 was 48 years ago. Attitudes and social customs have evolved in all areas of human conduct. The people who were trapped in oppressive situations have been empowered to change, and they have. Many, if not most, of the people doing the oppressing have also evolved and changed in tune with the new society.
People who cite the changing demographics of the minority populations in the U.S. make the mistake of ignoring the changing demographics of the non-minority populations, especially those in the southern states. The changes in attitudes and social customs referred to above have been abetted and encouraged by the large numbers of non-southern born people who have emigrated to the south in search of the boom-town posterity which has been occurring in the region during the past 30 years. Workers fleeing the northern rust belt from Michigan to New England are as important to the changing southern population as are the recent immigrants of minority origin.
Race relations may still be the most dangerous cancer eating at our "civil body politic." However, consider that as a society we are seriously working to resolve these issues. The medicine prescribed in 1965 has been very successful. Now we have different racial ills that require newer treatments to be developed. If a person discovers a physical cancer now, they do not go to their doctor and demand a 48 year old treatment. They want a modern and up to date treatment, one that incorporates the progress and findings of the past five decades. It would be foolish not to do so. It is equally foolish for our society to rely on 48 year old data to determine the structure of our laws.
Our politicians must stop playing the race card on every issue. The Justice Department has more than enough legal tools to assure fair voting practices in those dwindling areas where intervention is needed. Congress has an obligation to stop wasting the country’s time and money finding ways to avoid legislating and earn a little respect for a change.
Most of all, those people who are professional grievance mongers and provocateurs have to get a new line of work. Too many of them are in some kind of time warp and refuse to see that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Too many of them make their living by keeping problems alive, not solving them. Forget the oppression preaching. Forget the "you can’t cope with the system" rhetoric. Face the fact that a photo I.D. protects you from the possibility that some low-life will pretend to be you and cause you grief. Face the fact that the laws which apply to some voters apply to all voters. Legal voters, casting legal votes are, in the end, our only real protection from losing our democracy.
Weiland Ross is a Banner columnist.