Home 2013 races Voting Rights Act Decision will Affect 2013 Virginia Governor’s Race

Voting Rights Act Decision will Affect 2013 Virginia Governor’s Race

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(Interesting analysis. Personally, I see potential for outrage on the Dem side firing up our voters to turn out in droves this November. But I guess we’ll see… – promoted by lowkell)

by Paul Goldman

In effect, the Supreme Court today said the following: A state like Virginia should no longer have to clear all its election laws through the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, Virginia deserves to be treated like all the other non-Southern states. If a citizen or group of like-minded citizens/groups believe a Virginia law violates a federal right, then they should have to do what they would do if they lived say in New Jersey: file a suit in federal court, or state court as the case might be.

To be sure, the decision was in the usual legal language and is limited in effect to part of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But reading between the lines, the message here is not legal, but rather political, indeed social, downright cultural. Namely, the 5-4 majority believes states like Virginia should no longer be “tainted” with the label of being so hostile to minority rights that they can not be trusted to enact their own laws without first getting Uncle Sam’s approval. That’s the cultural message today from the Supreme Court.

Since we have a Governor’s race this year, there is a good chance the decision could play an important role in the outcome. The polls show the following: Democrats will by and large disagree with the Court ruling. Why? Because, in effect, Democrats believe that sufficient racial discrimination still exists in Virginia to justify the state having to receive this special federal oversight.  

The polls show this also: Republicans will by and large agree with the Court ruling, feeling that Virginia – meaning themselves – have been labeled “racists” long enough. They take it personally in a lot of respects.

Which leaves this question: How will those Virginians who are neither partisan Democrats nor Republicans feel? My own guess is that, if pressed, they would side far more with the GOP view than the Democratic view. But only if pressed; in fact, they would prefer to just not have to deal with it. This is not in their top 100 list of things that need fixing.

 

Virginia twice voted for President Barack Obama. Virginia made history by breaking the nation’s color line by electing Doug Wilder as Governor. In 2001, Don McEachin ran for Attorney General, the first African-American to be nominated by a major party to that post. This year, Republicans have nominated E.W. Jackson for LG, their first non-white nominee for major statewide office at least in the modern era.

So in that regard, the Supreme Court decision today does cite a true fact: this is not the 1960s anymore. Moreover, here in Richmond, we enacted a unique, never-before-used election method to get African Americans their right to elect their Mayor OVER the objection of the city’s African-American leadership, who didn’t want to give them that right, and who tried to use the Voting Rights Act to prevent it.

The point being: election law issues don’t fall into the neat categories of 50 years ago. Yet at the same time, we saw the Voter ID law issue pushed by Republicans around the country. However, by and large, the polls suggested swing voters were generally on the side of the GOP.

I think that Democrats need to admit the obvious: Virginia has made significant progress, as has America, since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in the summer of 1965. It is now 48 years later. The particular objection of the Supreme Court today was aimed at a formula used since a few years later in determining the application of a particular section of the Voting Rights Act.

I also think that Democrats need to concede that Virginia has different leadership, it has a different political culture, it is no longer run by the segregationist Byrd Machine, that the politics in cities like Richmond do not disadvantage African-Americans from citywide or council or school board elections in any way. This is a fact. Moreover, the need for Virginia to get federal approval on every little thing – such as changing a voting place – doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at times. But this begs the age-old question: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Republicans need to face this: the public doesn’t want to deal with this type of issue. It is sensitive, it is troubling, there is no easy answer, it cuts so many different ways. Moreover, what is the chance of this Congress coming up with a new and better formula as suggested by the Supreme Court? Not high for sure.  

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has worked far better than anyone could have expected. It has helped make Virginia “even better” as the saying goes. Without it, Doug Wilder would likely never have become Governor, Bobby Scott a member of Congress, any number of minorities not elected to the General Assembly or local offices.

Even Republican Governor Bob McDonnell says that as far as he is concerned, there is no particular need to change anything with the Voting Rights Act as far as Virginia is concerned.

So why is the Supreme Court getting into this matter given everything else going on? The answer: It is, it has. So at 200-proof politics, we take it as it lays. The Supremes have spoken. You got to live with it for now.

Ken Cuccinelli has long thought that Virginia was being unfairly tarnished as one of a handful of states that required this federal oversight. This has been a fairly consistent view on his side of the aisle.

Terry McAuliffe disagrees: He will object to today’s Supreme Court decision. Again, this is the normative feeling on his side of the aisle.

My take: In reading the Court’s decision, I don’t find the majority’s logic all that compelling as a matter of law. But I do concede the following: the sentiment expressed by the Supreme Court majority will hit home with many Virginians who are swing voters. That’s a 200-proof reality. And, since this is a GUV election year, it will have consequences.

I expect Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign to try and figure out a way to identify with this sentiment. It is tricky. But if you are his political strategist, you got to do it.

As for Terry McAuliffe, the ruling can be used to spur the Democrats to vote this November as a protest against the Court ruling. It will prove irresistible.

My gut feel: This ruling will be an issue, perhaps one of those “underground” issues. I suspect we will here from E.W. Jackson on the matter at some point soon. That will be entertaining.  

Democrats have to be careful not to turn this into a racial issue. The same for Republicans. Whomever goes too far on this issue is likely to regret it.  But no matter what, it will be there, under the surface. That’s the 200-proof reality.