Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A couple of thoughts on the voting rights act decision

By now most of you have probably heard about the Supreme court’s decision to overturn section 5 of the voting rights act which required nine states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain federal permission to change voting rules.

The justices seemed to believe such a law was not necessary anymore because the problem of voting equality had been fixed. It seems odd to me that the justices did not seem to understand that one of the reasons it had been fixed was the voting rights act itself. The law had not become obsolete in my opinion. The evidence of this is that just two hours after the ruling Texas, one of the nine states that had been affected by the voting rights act, began advancing bills for voter ID restrictions and redistricting that had been blocked just last year by a justice department ruling.

Two Hours After The Supreme Court Gutted The Voting Rights Act, Texas AG Suppresses Minority Voters

In any case, rather than rehash the details, which are already on thousands of news outlets, I wanted to delve into two of the most common defenses I have been hearing for this decision, and, of course, why I disagree with them.

1. The states rights argument.

This argument is basically saying that the law never should have existed in the first place because the constitution does not give the federal government the right to regulate a states voting laws. You see, the state has that power, and if they abuse it by disenfranchising the parts of the population they don’t like then the rest of the country can do nothing but shrug its collective shoulders and accept it. It is first important to note that the justices do not offer this as a reason for overturning it, the majority decision seems to acknowledge that the law served a valuable purpose in the past.

To understand why I reject this reasoning let us first talk a bit about the idea of states rights. In theory I’m a supporter of the concept. The reason is because I think, when applied properly, it gives more rights to the individual. How, you ask? It’s simple statistics. If the whole country votes on a law then I am one voice in roughly 300 million, but if that same law is decided by the state then I am one voice out of whatever the population of that state, certainty a smaller number. It is also easier to advocate for causes in our political system when some changes are left to smaller groups than the entire federal government. Further, It is often the case that the federal government is controlled by larger business because they have the capital to lobby for their interests; so placing more power at the state and local level can also, in theory, give citizens without 7 figure incomes a larger voice in the political process.

The point is that states rights is suppose to be a concept that gives the individual more power, but in this case it is clearly not being used for that. Instead states rights is just being used as a clever guise to interrupt the political process and disempowering certain individuals. If it a question of obeying the letter of the law or the spirit of it, I know where I stand. States rights cease to be something I care about the moment when the concept is used to take our rights away instead of give them to us.

2. All the people who disagree with this are really racist since they think voter ID laws will disproportionally effect minorities.

Basically the argument states that when people point out these laws will have a disproportionate affect are certain minority groups that they are being racist because they are suggesting that these minorities are either too lazy or unintelligent to get a I.D., or are perhaps illegal.

This argument, in addition to being an ad hominem, and an example of the “I know you are but what am I” defense, has several problems. In the first place it is a bit of a red herring, because voter ID laws are only a part of the problem. Redistricting was included in the section 5 rules and was quite often just as big a problem as voter ID laws. Using demographics from the census it is possible to redraw districts in such a way as to prevent any minority group from having enough population in any one district to have a say in their local politics.

Second, it is not racist to point out something that is demonstrated to be reality. Studies have, in fact, shown that certain types of voter ID laws will disproportionally effect minorities.

Voter ID Laws Could Disenfranchise 1 Million Young Minority Voters: Study

This is science, it’s not racist to employ science in your understanding of a topic. Indeed it would be intellectually cowardly to ignore this evidence just because we fear that someone might mistake scientific inquiry with racism. Furthermore, no one involved in gathering these figures has, to my knowledge, said that the reason for these numbers has anything to do with minorities being lazy or uneducated or anything like that. In fact, as far as I can tell, no reason is given because there are no studies done to investigate that and thus there is no current evidence as to the cause. To wit, to claim the cause for these figures is laziness or a lack of education based on the current evidence would be not only racist, it would be intellectually lazy and scientifically unsupportable. Which is, of course, why no one is saying that.

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