tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
  • Home

Henderson: With voting rights, the issue now is trust

Tuesday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act affected 15 states, but the national stories have focused on the South. Or, as the Associated Press put it, "the old Confederacy." The stereotype is easy to make and probably gets a lot of heads shaking up north, but I don't believe it is fair. Election shenanigans are not confined to Dixieland, you know. No one is saying the history in this part of the land is good, though. Florida's ballot-box reputation is particularly lame. The attempt in 2011 by the Legislature to tighten election laws in our state was widely seen as minority suppression. There also seems to be a particular problem in Palm Beach County with actually counting the votes and telling us who won.
v v And the highest court has made it easier for state legislators everywhere to play games with its ruling that safeguards in the Voting Rights Act are outdated and no longer necessary. That's an interesting interpretation, given that in his majority opinion Chief Justice John Roberts noted, "Voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that." The high court threw the ball to Congress to come up with a way to ensure fairness while giving states more latitude in how they run elections. So we arrive at the question of trust, or lack of that. In Florida, we have to do elections cleaner with more transparency than any other state. The images of minorities waiting hours in line last November just to vote were so searing that Gov. Rick Scott modified most of the new rules. Maybe public pressure had something to do with that. v v If people trusted their leaders to do the right thing, there wouldn't have been such an outcry about the court's decision - particularly from minorities. But asking voters for trust is really too much these days, especially since the fox was just put on guard duty at the hen house. Will a place like Ohio, for instance, now feel unrestrained to repeat the mess of 2004 where voters in mostly minority precincts had to stand outside in the rain late into the night before casting their ballots because of inadequate staffing? Ohio was not on the list of 15 states primarily affected by this decision. In other words, Ohio had freedom from the kind of overt federal oversight the court now says is outdated. Meanwhile, back in the "old Confederacy," several southern states have vowed to fast-track voter ID rules that had been on hold. I don't think there's anything wrong with requiring someone to prove they are eligible to vote. It's what might be coming next that could be the concern. Maybe fewer polling places in minority neighborhoods, a phase-out of early voting days, or last-minute registration requirements. We hope nothing like that, or worse, will happen here in Florida. But knowing what went on before, how can we know for sure that it won't? www.facebook.com/JoehendersonTrib
Weather Center