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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Editorials

Judicious decision on voting rights

Published:

Forget the warnings by the alarmists, including President Obama. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Tuesday that frees certain state and local governments, including Hillsborough, from a key burden of the Voting Rights Act will not result in discrimination and intimidation at the polls.

The court simply acknowledged the obvious: Basing the act's preclearance provision on 40-year-old information is irresponsible.

The president said he was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling that "upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent."

He didn't mentioned those "practices" were based on violations that occurred decades ago and have long since been addressed.

Because of past problems with election discrimination, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia must have their election plans approved by the U.S. Justice Department. The same goes for various local governments, including Hillsborough County.

This precaution could be justified when Hillsborough and other communities were indifferent, if not antagonistic, toward minority voters.

But it is a reflection of a moribund federal government that it continued to insist on rigid control many years after the affected governments implemented voting remedies.

Hillsborough, for instance, was brought under federal supervision because it failed to print ballots in Spanish, despite its large Hispanic population. But the county has been printing ballots in Spanish for many years, and the Supervisor of Elections Office has numerous community outreach programs. And minorities are routinely elected.

So that extra federal oversight now serves only to create more costs and red tape.

Critics of the decision point to the Florida Legislature's 2011 election "reforms" that, among other things, reduced the number of voting days and led to long lines and confusion in some counties as a rationale for maintaining federal supervision.

Those changes did seem politically motivated and illustrate the importance of being vigilant about protecting the democratic process. But preclearance did nothing to prevent the state's election law blunder.

Moreover, public outrage forced lawmakers to jettison most of the ill-considered changes.

The court ruling reasonably finds that Congress can still impose federal oversight in states and communities where voting rights are compromised, but such action should be based on recent data, not on, as Chief Justice John Roberts aptly put it, "40-year-old facts having no relationship to the present day."

Congress has had opportunities to correct these flaws, which the Supreme Court pointed out in a 2009 voting rights case, but has failed to. So the high court's decision Tuesday shouldn't have been surprising.

The court's ruling does not eliminate federal protections for voters.

Individuals who feel their voting rights have been violated can still file suit.

The ruling did eliminate a regulatory regimen based on conditions that no longer exist, a practice that, if anything, made a mockery of the Voting Rights Act.

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