May we please, Lord D.C.?

In 2009, a small water utility district in northwest Austin wanted to move its board member elections from a private home to a local school. Sounds innocuous enough.

But thanks to a dated piece of legislation, the utility had to seek government approval. By government approval, we’re not talking from Travis County. Not even the State of Texas. We mean the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Not federalism’s finest moment.

Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. It aimed to eliminate racial discrimination in voting practices whether intentional or not. A noble endeavor, I admit, on the heals of literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses.

But rather than applying the well-intended law to the entire country, the law singled out nine states, including Texas, that had an historical record of unfair treatment of certain voters.

The thrust of the law lies in its “pre-clearance” requirement whereby the U.S. Attorney General or a D.C. district court must approve any election law change made by the subject states or their subdivisions.

Why are we still unclear when Texas’ primary elections will be held this spring? Because the legislative and congressional maps drawn by the Texas Legislature last spring are still being “pre-cleared” by a D.C. court.

In addition, interest groups can file suit in the name of the Voting Rights Act if maps that state legislatures draw don’t align with their interests. Hence, another reason this year’s Texas primary is up in the air.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund complained to a San Antonio federal court last year that the Texas Legislature’s maps diluted minority voting strength. That court then drew its own set of maps which favored Democrats.

The State of Texas appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court which just last week unanimously instructed the lower court to give more credence to the maps passed by the people’s representatives, even while those maps are under review by the D.C. court.

In the macro, these Voting Rights Act-inspired maneuverings confuse the electorate and will likely suppress turnout. Thousands of our state tax dollars get spent defending our state’s right to make its own election law.

All this nearly half a century after the end of voter discrimination of the type the Voting Rights Act intends to eliminate. Regardless of the repentance and reform that have occurred, Texas and its counterparts continue to wear the scarlet letter of sins gone by.

Many conservatives, including this one, question why George W. Bush signed a twenty-five year extension of the Act in 2006. If it were such good legislation, why not include every state in on the fun?

If it were still necessary, where are the flagrant displays of discrimination in the last twenty-five years that justify its continuance?

And if the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution works for the other 41 states in these matters, will it also not work for the nine?

As it stands, the law keeps costing the subject states tax dollars and sovereignty as they get every poll location and boundary change approved by the presumably more enlightened and less bigoted big wigs in Washington.

 
Kevin Thompson writes weekly in The Boerne Star. Contact him at kevin@kwt.info.
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