Washington Times Warns Opposition To Voter Suppression Is The "Real Threat"

Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

The Washington Times declared the real "obstacle to civil rights" is Attorney General Eric Holder and "offensive provisions" of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), not voter suppression.

Despite right-wing media's incessant, tone-deaf, and inaccurate discussion of race and civil rights in America in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial, conservative outlets have barely reported on Congress' current attempts to fix the VRA. 

On the same day that The Times' editors dismissed President Obama's historic speech on the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by claiming "the only things the president had in common with Trayvon was a skin of a dark hue and a fondness for partying and smoking pot," the editorial board touched on the issue and claimed the real "threat to voting rights" was Congress' preliminary attempts to remedy the damage to the VRA caused by the infamous Shelby County v. Holder decision. From the July 23 editorial:

Democrats in Congress are trying to restore the offensive provisions of the Voting Rights Act as though the Supreme Court had not declared them unconstitutional. The legislative scam was put on display at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, with the legislation presented as the usual liberal morality play, "From Selma to Shelby County: Working Together to Restore the Protections of the Voting Rights Act."


When the voting law comes up for consideration, Republicans shouldn't be bullied into restoring provisions that would block voter-ID statutes enacted by the states. Much to the chagrin of congressmen looking for cheap and easy votes, Jim Crow lies in a graveyard in Alabama, and he isn't coming back. There's not a single Southern governor left standing in a schoolhouse door. The obstacle to civil rights is [Attorney General Eric] Holder, who wants to keep the backdoor of the polling station unlocked to make it easier to dilute the integrity of the ballot.

Continuing the recent trend in right-wing media, The Times pretends that Congressional concern for the VRA after the conservative justices in Shelby County gutted its most important provisions is only a "liberal morality play." In fact, the VRA has a long history of overwhelming bipartisan support, reauthorized most recently by President George W. Bush in 2006. After Shelby County was decided, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) immediately "signaled a concrete interest in repairing the parts" of the VRA that were struck down. More significantly, conservative Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is actively leading the current bipartisan effort to repair the historic civil rights law.

The Times, however, followed the lead of Fox News and avoided any mention of Sensenbrenner's prominent involvement. Instead, The Times chose to focus on encouraging members of Congress to show "backbone," even if they are "called a racist," and refuse to reauthorize the sections of the VRA that successfully blocked racially discriminatory voter ID laws in the last election cycle.

As The Times noted in reference to Virginia, now that the VRA's ability to prevent the worst historical actors from enacting election practices that discriminate on the basis of race is nullified, these voter ID laws that were previously blocked by the "preclearance" mechanism of Sections 4 and 5 are proceeding across the old Confederacy at a rapid clip. Calling these laws "common sense" that protect "the integrity of the ballot," The Times ignored that the voter fraud these laws purport to prevent is virtually non-existent, a fact even recently recognized by Shepard Smith of Fox News.

If Congress doesn't act, these laws that were illegal prior to Shelby County will be much harder for the courts to stop, even if their racially discriminatory effect is clear. North Carolina, for example, recently released a study that "confirm[ed] what many suspected." As explained in The New Republic:

The North Carolina data confirms what many suspected: Voter ID laws have a disparate impact on non-white and Democratic voters. According to the North Carolina Secretary of State, 46 percent of [voters without the requisite ID] in the 2012 general election were non-white, compared to 30 percent of all registered voters. Similarly, 36 percent were black, compared to 23 percent of registered voters. And 58 percent of voters without a state-issued ID were Democrats, compared to 43 percent of all registered voters.

Nevertheless, the state's predominantly Republican legislature is proceeding with this voter ID law. Ari Berman in The Nation reported that the fact that the VRA could no longer stop this measure was a selling point for leading GOP legislators, who "[b]oasted that North Carolina would no longer have to go through the legal headache of complying with Section 5 of the VRA." From The Nation:

This week, the North Carolina legislature will almost certainly pass a strict new voter ID law that could disenfranchise 318,000 registered voters who don't have the narrow forms of accepted state-issued ID. As if that wasn't bad enough, the bill has since been amended by Republicans to include a slew of appalling voter suppression measures. They include cutting a week of early voting, ending same-day registration during the early voting period and making it easier for vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters. The bill is being debated this afternoon in the Senate Rules Committee. Here are the details, via North Carolina State Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake County):

"If anyone had any doubt about the bill's intent to suppress voters, all he/she has to do is read it. The bill now does the following:

  • shortens early voting by 1 week,
  • eliminates same day registration and provisional voting if at wrong precinct,
  • prevents counties from offering voting on last Saturday before the election beyond 1 pm,
  • prevents counties from extending poll hours by one hour on election day in extraordinary circumstances (like lengthy lines),
  • eliminates state supported voter registration drives and preregistration for 16/17 year olds,
  • repeals voter owned judicial elections and straight party voting,
  • increases number of people who can challenge voters inside the precinct, and
  • purges voter rolls more often."


The bill even eliminates Citizens Awareness Month to encourage voter registration, notes Brent Laurenz, executive director of the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Voter Education. Because God forbid we encourage people to vote! The proposed bill eliminates nearly all of the democratic advances that made North Carolina one of the most progressive Southern states when it comes to voting rights and one of the top fifteen states in voter turnout nationally, guaranteeing that there will be longer lines at the polls, less voter participation and much more voter confusion.

The Times' ahistoric insistence that the VRA is only applicable to the violent brutality of Jim Crow and not measures like North Carolina's was rejected by Congress four times before five conservative justices decided to substitute their own judgment, a radical move that even former Justice John Paul Stevens- author of the most recent voter ID Supreme Court case - sharply criticized. A bipartisan effort in Congress is now attempting to reauthorize the VRA an unexpected fifth time so that the Department of Justice can once again prevent the disenfranchisement of "tens of millions of minority citizens."

In the backwards logic of right-wing media, however, trying to protect the right to vote against racial discrimination is the true "obstacle to civil rights."

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