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Lawmakers must develop fair rules that ensure the integrity of elections while protecting the rights of eligible voters.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Members of Congress who don’t like being bossed around by Supreme Court justices should remember that the U.S. Constitution still gives lawmakers authority over voting matters. This week’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act makes it clear they have a job to do, and they need to jump on it.
The 5-4 ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts declares unconstitutional a portion of the civil rights law that lays out a formula to determine which states and localities must seek federal approval before making changes to election rules. Virginia is one of nine states that must ask the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before adding new voting requirements or redoing legislative and congressional districts.
The court said the formula is flawed because it hasn’t been updated since 1975, relying on old data about minority voter registration and turnout as well as past use of discriminatory practices such as literacy tests from the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s not a new concern. Justices expressed angst over the formula in a ruling four years ago. This time, they did more than complain. They demanded that Congress make fixes necessary to reflect modern-day realities.
It’s now up to Congress to develop fair and transparent rules that ensure the integrity of the election system while enabling those legally eligible to participate in our democratic system to do so.
Confusion in the aftermath of the ruling argues against delay. Gov. Bob McDonnell initially said the ruling would slow implementation of a new law that requires voters to have photo identification, but he later backed away from that interpretation and acknowledged the effect of the decision is ambiguous.
Prognosticators this week exclaimed over the difficulty in obtaining consensus in Congress over a new formula. Given the gridlock on Capitol Hill in recent years, that’s a real concern. But it’s also worth noting that Congress renewed the voting law in 2006 with overwhelming majorities of 390-33 in the House of Representatives and 98-0 in the Senate.
The onus is now on Congress to not just renew the law, but to improve it. Rather than viewing the task as a chore handed over from another branch of government, lawmakers should remember they’re really just doing their job.
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