Monday, July 18, 2005

A 65-Year Emergency?

From the Wall Street Journal:

When it comes to issues involving race, apparently the first instinct of congressional Republicans is to grovel. They don't believe in appeasement abroad--only at home. The immediate issue is the reauthorization of the "emergency" provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act--provisions such as preclearance that constitute such a radical, unprecedented intrusion into state electoral prerogatives that they were originally designed to expire in 1970. Repeatedly extended, they are now due to die on Aug. 6, 2007.

But, terrified by the reauthorization campaign that the NAACP, the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, and other advocacy groups have begun to mount, Republicans in the House and Senate are pledging their support for reauthorization. Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay and House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner have announced that they will introduce legislation extending the "temporary" provisions another 25 years. This comes on the heels of Bill Frist, who said: "We must continue our nation's work to protect voting rights. And that is why we need to extend the Voting Rights Act."

Sen. Frist's statement is a non sequitur. Protecting voting rights is vital, but extending the temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act is quite a different matter. Most of the legislation is permanent...

Section 5 is the most important of the provisions due to expire in 2007. It forces "covered" states and counties to "preclear" every voting-related change they make with the U.S. attorney general or the D.C. district court... Most of the states and counties on the federal watch list are in the South. But today, for instance, Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn are covered, but Queens and Staten Island are not. Arizona is covered, but not New Mexico. In 1965 every part of the act made perfect sense. No longer...

The 1965 Act was amazingly effective, but members of Congress... became persuaded that blacks were equally disfranchised when the power of their vote was "diluted." Encouraged by courts, the Justice Department began to insist that all covered jurisdictions create as many "max-black" districts as possible. The point, of course, was to protect black (and after 1975, Hispanic) candidates from white competition, to promote minority office-holding in proportion to the minority population--which was viewed as racially "fair." The result: racial gerrymandering so egregious as to create bug-splat districts that, in the words of the Supreme Court, reinforced "the perception that members of the same racial group--regardless of their age, education, economic status, or the community in which they live--think alike."

While many racial activists demand these racist districts, other observers have pointed out that
it is a highly dubious policy. While creating safe seats increases the number of minority office holders, it dissipates minority voter's influence over the process as a whole. Packing minority voters into a few districts that they can safely control relinquishes almost all minority influence in the far larger number of districts now populated almost entirely by whites.
If we accept the gerrymanderers' premise as true - that is, that racial groups always vote uniformly and exclusively for same-race candidates - what is even to be gained by giving them some token districts? They still can't find a way to rewrite math and turn a minority into a majority.

Besides, what is it that makes a white man incapable of representing a black man? Or vice versa?

One study in California showed that
Latino and black voter participation is highest in congressional districts where they are able to play a prominent role, while white voter participation does not suffer in districts where they are the minority.
Indulging for a moment in problematic race-bloc-thinking, what does this show?
  • Minority voter participation is higher, but this is actually irrelevant when the district has been gerrymandered for race-based results. When the result is predetermined, elections are meaningless (think Cuba and Iraq under Saddam).
  • If "white" voter participation remains constant, perhaps they can serve as an example. Instead of telling minorities that their votes only matter if they are guaranteed to elect someone of the same race, how about some issue-based politics. The hope for Iraqi democracy is that the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds can move past ethnic identity and move forward as a country. Should we expect anything less in America?

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