By: The Dominion Post editorial board
When speaking to members of the press late last week, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito offered the following rationale for the GOP filibuster of the Freedom to Vote Act — voting rights legislation crafted by Sen. Joe Manchin as a compromise to the For the People Act, specifically to garner Republican support: “This is a federal takeover of our election systems.”
Yes, yes it is. And Capito need only look to her state-level counterparts to explain why federal legislation is necessary.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have enacted 33 restrictive voting laws as of Sept. 27. NPR presents a map, last updated Sept. 7, that breaks down states that have passed only restrictive voting legislation, only expansive legislation and mixed/no major legislation. According to that map, nine states have passed only restrictive legislation. All nine of those states are Republican controlled; of the 17 states that only expanded voting accessibility, 16 are Democratically controlled. (Indiana, which has a majority Republican legislature, was the only red state to pass expansive legislation.) In one of the oddest and most egregious examples, Georgia passed a law forbidding people from handing out water bottles or snacks to voters waiting in line, enacted less than a year after voters in primarily Black precincts had to wait for hours in line to cast a vote in the state’s primary election.
But the need for federal oversight of elections pre-dates Republican’s reactionary laws to historic voter turnout last year. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a key provision (Section 5) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had required states with a history of (racist) voter suppression laws and practices to get preclearance from the federal government before enacting new voting laws.
Writing for the majority at the time, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, “Our country has changed.”
Roberts and his fellow conservatives on the court at the time willfully misunderstood that the country had changed because of the federal laws enacted to force said change. And in the years since the Voting Rights Act was eviscerated, the country has changed again, turning back the clock to the days when only wealthy white men could cast a ballot, as early voting days, mail-in voting opportunities, available polling locations and other voting accessibility measures have been restricted or eliminated. For the record, Arizona, Georgia and Texas were previously covered by Section 5, and all three enacted restrictive voting laws this past year.
Just this past year, an even more conservative Supreme Court upheld provisions in Arizona that disproportionately impacted minority voters. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority: “The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”
The presence of disparity means there cannot be equality.
The Supreme Court has often argued that it is not a legislative body; that it can only determine the constitutional validity of laws already created, and it is up to legislative bodies to correct any wrongs it cannot. And since state legislatures are taking advantage of the conservative majority to disenfranchise voters, it is up to Congress to set the wrongs to right. That is why the Freedom to Vote Act and the accompanying John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act must be passed.
Yes, Sen. Capito, it is a federal takeover of election systems, because certain states have proven they can’t be trusted to offer all citizens equal access to the vote.
Editor’s note: This editorial is aimed at our neighbor’s in West Virginia, but the sentiments within should resonate with Kentucky voters as well. Like West Virginia, our voters tend to be older, rural, and less affluent – amd more likely to be disenfranchised as a result.
Manchin’s attempt at a bipartisan bill should be praised, not pilloried. All voters deserve access to the polls. This isn’t a Democrat and Republican issue. It’s an American issue, and one we should all support.