by Marcus J. Coleman, Ph.D.
“Mississippi citizens have earned the right to determine our voting processes…Our relationships and trust in each other have matured. This chapter is closed.”
– Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi Secretary of State
Recently, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that certain states – mostly in the South and smaller areas with histories of discrimination – submit to pre-clearance by the Justice Department or the Court of Appeals for D.C. Before the recent SCOTUS decision, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 had been renewed 4 times. The SCOTUS decision permits the propagation of voter ID laws by states without pre-clearance, which results in voting being reclassified from being public good inherent to all American citizens to being a club good only available to citizens who can secure and produce photo identification upon request. In theory, the Federal Government retains the right to reject voting changes being made in states that have a history of discrimination, but the formula that determines which states are subject to such scrutiny has been voided and, thus, so has the oversight.
The SCOTUS decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act will help maintain gerrymandered redistricting, lead to the proliferation of strict photo voter ID laws, and continue the sclerosis of voting alliances. Gerrymandered redistricting allows states’ controlling political parties to draw Congressional districts as they desire, i.e. to benefit their party. Thus, states that have a history of discrimination against ethnic minorities may possibly slow the rate of growth for minority voting in their respective states by restricting possible voters who do not have a photo ID or the means to obtain one. Regarding political sclerosis, the states subject to pre-clearance have been reliable Republican leaning states, except Virginia and Florida, which both have voter ID laws. In concert with the fact that less than one percent of the black state legislators in the South serve in the state party controlling the state legislature, the Supreme Court’s decision essentially freezes the 2010 midterm results.
As it seems, racially tinged relationships resultant of the United States’ sanctioned mistreatment of its African American and Hispanic citizens will be the focal point of electoral politics. The VRA of 1965 was an act established the federal government as an enforcer of the law because constitutionally protected voting rights were not being upheld in states with a history of discrimination against its minority citizens. White local and state governments enacted nefarious statues that disproportionately impacted the voting rights of newly enfranchised African Americans. The SCOTUS decision shifted the political launching point for states subject to pre-clearance from mediated transactions to intercultural relationships.
To provide context from a state that has a shameful history of discriminating against its African American citizens, Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, suggests that relationships between local and state governments and those who are governed; relationships between neighbors of varying ethnic backgrounds; and the relationship of individuals to their respective communities will determine the future of voting rights for all citizens of the United States. As such, we proceed toward future elections fearful that they may be reminiscent of a recent past, e.g. the “massive resistance” of 1966, where we saw the Mississippi Legislature produce seditious statues that subverted efforts by local, state, and national organizations to secure equal voting rights for African Americans. We must view the next scene in America’s political drama through the prism of communal relationship. Have intercultural relationships between neighbors, state governments and the governed, and individuals and their community matured? We will soon find out.