Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

In our opinion: Dramatic transformation over past century demonstrates progress on voting rights

Deseret News editorial

Published: Mon, April 21 12:00 a.m. MDT

 Voters cast their votes through absentee ballots at the town hall in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Voters cast their votes through absentee ballots at the town hall in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

(Associated Press)

In the realm of civil rights for blacks, our nation has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past half-century. If we hadn’t gotten to the point that we are at today, our nation might still need the federal government to strictly oversee election laws in certain states where voting discrimination had, historically, been a systematic problem.

If our nation hadn’t undergone the broad transformation that it has in attitudes about race, then some states might still, if left to their own devices, re-enact poll tests, literacy requirements or other impediments designed to keep black voters from casting ballots.

But so deep have been the transformation in attitudes toward blacks holding public office that we doubt anyone really believes this would happen.

Yet President Barack Obama, in a recent attack on Republicans, equated voter identification laws in effect in 34 states with those earlier attempts to disenfranchise black voters. Those earlier state laws led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which required federal oversight of election laws in nine states.

Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the formula used for overseeing those states, ruling it was outdated and irrational under present realities.

Congress recently struggled over possibly introducing a new formula. The compromise would reduce the number of states with federal oversight to four, and would still allow for voter identification laws. But the bill is not expected to survive the rancorous political divisions in Congress.

For once, inaction in Washington is a good thing.

Some apparently want the nation to believe voter ID laws, which require people to show some form of identification before receiving a ballot, are a throwback to Jim Crow days. In the president’s words, “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago."

But as The Wall Street Journal recently opined, “if the states are secretly trying to suppress minority turnout, they're doing a lousy job.”

As Census data show, the 2012 election was the first in which black voters cast ballots at a higher rate (66.2 percent of eligible voters) than white voters (64.1 percent).

Compare this to 1965, when, as the Supreme Court noted last year, only 6.7 percent of Mississippi’s eligible black voters were allowed to cast ballots.

Census figures also show black voting rates jumped 13 percentage points from 1996 to 2012 — despite voter ID laws.

Based on a review of voter participation rates, it is very hard to credibly claim that the right to vote, for blacks or other minorities, is being threatened.

Politicians sometimes accentuate the negative to suit campaign strategies. In this case, there has been no demonstration of harm. The danger in such a tactic is that real and demonstrable progress will be blurred and public confidence eroded in an electoral system that is fairer than ever.

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1. silas brill
Heber, UT,
April 21, 2014

I don't believe the voter ID laws are necessarily targeting blacks, per se. I think they are targeting people who most likely vote for Democrats. Theses may be poor folks who don't drive, or elderly or urban people who rely exclusively on public transportation and therefore don't have a drivers license.

Or maybe they are targeting blacks. Regardless, the voter ID effort is the shadiest attempt to inconvenience these people. My reasoning for this is that it is entirely a Republican attempt to prevent voter fraud, something that is virtually non-existent.

I smell a rat.

The Republicans beat their chests professing their superior adherence and sincere fealty to the Constitution. What they don't get is that Constitutional rights - such as the Constitutional right to vote - are not conditional on having a photo ID. I wonder what the Founders would say about that.

The only fraud I see is Republican.

2. slcdenizen
t-ville, UT,
April 21, 2014

Why is voter fraud suddenly an issue for the right? Have independent studies produced alarming data about an increase in fraud? Nope. This article sheds some light on it:

"As Census data show, the 2012 election was the first in which black voters cast ballots at a higher rate (66.2 percent of eligible voters) than white voters (64.1 percent)."

If Republicans consistently won the black vote, they would be eagerly trying to pass laws enabling easier methods of voting, including online options. Instead, they are devising hurdles which adversely affect the constituencies that vote Democrat, like voter ID laws or restricting voting on certain days. The Republican party and modern conservative ideology is morally and intellectualy bankrupt and the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can begin shaping more competitive parties and elections.

3. pragmatistferlife
salt lake city, utah,
April 21, 2014

Black=Democrat, that's the issue.

"But as The Wall Street Journal recently opined, “if the states are secretly trying to suppress minority turnout, they're doing a lousy job.”. That shows what..nothing. Most predict with effort these attempts at Democratic/black vote suppression won't be successful either. It doesn't mean the Republicans aren't trying.

4. Badgerbadger
Murray, UT,
April 21, 2014

Silas, I bet you have never been at a poll in a swing state, near the state line. That is why you haven't seen any voter fraud. It doesn't occur in Heber.

The idea that voter ID is discriminatory is just the democrats playing the race card, yet again.

The only ones that picture ID requirements will prevent from voting are those who are voting in behalf of dead people, or other people who are not them, or people who are not eligible voters due to lack of residence in the voting precinct. I don't know what color those people will be, and I don't care, and neither do republicans in general.

5. Esquire
Springville, UT,
April 21, 2014

In your opinion, whatever the extreme right wants is good. Here are a couple more ideas. One, your relentless, daily shots at the President are getting old. Two, you have absolutely no idea of what is going on in the rest of country and the history of civil rights. The problems are often subtle, sometimes not, but judging it from here is a little like trying to determine if there is life on another planet. You just don't get it. So, please, stop parroting the Republican line. It is apparent from a whole number of issues that they don't much care for the middle class, and they sure as heck don't believe in inclusiveness, especially when it comes to voting.