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


(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.


    Democratic nominee for Attorney General, State Senator Mark Herring issued the following statement today following the decision of the United States Supreme Court to strike down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act:

    “The Supreme Court’s decision today is deeply disappointing. It is a step backward, and an affront to the men and women who fought for the Voting Rights Act and the countless number of Virginians whose voting rights have been protected by this legislation.

    “While Virginia and our nation have made progress since 1965 toward protecting every individual’s constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, I agree with our Governor that Virginia has not outgrown the Voting Rights Act and that Congress should move to rectify this decision.

    “I believe we must remain vigilant in protecting against any effort that disenfranchises voters and as Attorney General I will always stand up to protect Virginians’ right to vote.”


    WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine released the following statement today in response to the United States Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder:

    “The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the validity of the Voting Rights Act preclearance requirement but specify that Congress must grapple anew with the appropriate geographic application of the technique raises serious concerns, particularly with regard to how voting rights will be protected in the interim in places where discrimination still exists.  As a former member of state and local elected bodies subject to preclearance rules, I have generally found the process straightforward and, given the importance of voting, not onerous. I  look forward to working with my Congressional colleagues to determine how we can continue to rigorously protect the voting rights of all. In the meantime, I would advocate that jurisdictions continue to submit voting changes to the Department of Justice for preclearance as a sign to their own constituents that they are committed to ensuring equal voting rights.”

  • “As a former elected official from Virginia, I wanted to report that SCOTUS, in gutting the Voting Rights Act has done real harm to millions of people. The judicial activism of the majority is only matched by the Citizens United fiasco. I respectfully suggest that if you wish to run for office please do. But please quit legislating from the bench.”

  • MShapiro

    As someone who makes a living doing GIS analysis and creating nice color coded maps for people, I see certain aspects of the VRA as the last vestige of institutionalized racism in this country. It basically says the major determining factor in how district lines are drawn is the color of a person’s skin, which by definition, is as racist as you can possibly get.

    It may be hard to tell without the maps right in front of you, but when you overlay district lines (school zones, GA districts, Congressional districts) on a map of census blocks color coded by racial composition, you see most of them fall right between blocks with 90% minority population and 90% white population.

    I have no doubt that 50 year ago this was a necessary evil, but this is 2013. It’s hard to explain with a straight face how discriminating against people based on race prevents people from discriminating against them based on race. Just like legislators in solid R or D districts, minority representatives in majority-minority districts can afford to be lazy, do-nothing legislators because they are assured their re-election regardless of what they do or do not do.

    This is a huge disservice to the minority community and leaves their votes counting basically for nothing except in statewide elections. Ditch that section of the VRA entirely and we can re-draw the maps and minority populations will be the new swing voters and make hundreds of newly competitive legislative districts.

  • RICHMOND — Today the United States Supreme Court ruled Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act invalid in Shelby County v. Holder. Section 4 is the provision of the law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting law cleared by the federal government. Virginia is one of the states which falls under this Section.

    “This is a step backward for voting Virginians,” said DPVA Vice Chair Senator Louise Lucas. “Sadly, in 2013 this section of the Voting Rights Act is still needed. Just last November we saw lines of Virginians – some of which were six hours long – who just wanted to exercise their most fundamental right. Today’s ruling opens the door to even more barriers for Virginians who wish to exercise their right to vote.

    “Year after year, Virginia Republicans like Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Obenshain support legislation to limit Virginians’ access to the voting booth. Just this year, Mark Obenshain sponsored and the Senate passed the controversial photo ID bill, making it more difficult for students, the elderly, and working families to cast their votes. That’s why the Democratic Party of Virginia is fighting every single day to elect leaders who care about protecting and expanding the vote, not limiting it.”

  • Our nation struggled for more than 150 years to ensure all Americans had the right to vote free from the pernicious effects of discrimination.  Passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act was critical in guaranteeing equal treatment in our electoral system.  Today’s decision by the Supreme Court undermines this law, opening the door to voter suppression efforts at the state-level that would harm the foundation of our democracy.  Now, more than ever, it is incumbent upon Congress to enact legislation that prohibits discrimination in elections and expands access to the polls for every citizen.

  • DJRippert

    First and foremost – there’s nothing that the governor of Virginia can do about the Supreme Court ruling – one way or the other.  So, the first thing to do is not over-react.  This is what it is.

    As a non-partisan swing voter who happily casts ballots for candidates from both parties, this is how I see it:

    1. The Supreme Court probably made the right decision, although this is a nit.  The Voting Rights Act was a seminal and critical piece of civil rights legislation.  And, somewhat remarkably for federal legislation, it worked.  Virginia’s election of Doug Wilder was validation of Virginia’s new outlook.  Virginia’s support for Barack Obama was confirmation.

    2. Sinister forces in Richmond still exist.  Today, those forces are less likely to be overtly racist but are very likely to be willing to disenfranchise groups in order to win elections.  The Voting Rights Act scared some of these sinister forces away from committing bad acts.  In particular, the RPV would be willing to disenfranchise black voters in order to win elections.  Yet this is more about winning elections than racism.  The RPV would disenfranchise Arlington County as well, if they could think of a way to do so.

    3. Today, the issue has moved from overt racism to dirty politics.  Sometimes the two intersect.  One example is the voter identification debate.  There have been no recent examples of systematic voter fraud in Virginia (that I know of).  So, why the need for additional identification?  To scare away people from the polls by making it too inconvenient to vote.  In the case of voter identification cards the goal is to keep less affluent people from voting since less affluent people often do not have drivers licenses – especially in urban areas.  The “knock on” effect has been to disproportionately target minorities although (as I wrote) if the RPV could target all of Arlington County they would do so.

    4. McAuliffe can, once again, join with Bob McDonnell and decry the abandonment of the Voting Rights Act.  Seeing McAuliffe agree with McDonnell impresses independent voters since it seem to demonstrate that he is more interested in doing the right thing than being an ideologue.

    5. McAuliffe should distinguish himself from Cuccinelli on the voter identification issue.  Now that the added protection of automatic federal review of Virginia voting law changes has been removed it is crucial that we don’t backslide.  The voter identification issue is a backslide – whether it was intentionally directed at minorities or not.


  • Great catch by Julian Walker of the Virginian-Pilot. Another instant classic from Ken Cuccinelli:

    “Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires federal permission to do anything, to move a polling place, you have to go… I call it ‘running to mommy’ which you get my level of respect for it.”

  • From the Ralph Northam for LG campaign:

    Richmond, VA – Today state Senator and candidate for Lt. Governor Ralph Northam issued the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate section 4 of the Voting Rights Act:

    “There is a clear bipartisan consensus that today’s ruling is the wrong for Virginia and I share Governor McDonnell’s and Senator Warner’s concerns about the Supreme Court’s decision. It is vital that we protect the right to vote for all of Virginia’s citizens. In the state Senate I have defended voting rights and opposed efforts to undermine fair elections in the Commonwealth. As Lt. Governor I will continue to make sure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to make their voices heard on Election Day.”

  • From TPM:

    “My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all,” Cantor said in a statement provided to TPM. “I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected.”

  • ir003436

    The SCOTUS decision cited the numbers of African-American voters and the numbers of elected African-American officials in the states of the Confederacy.

    Those numbers are irrelevant.

    What matters . . . in fact, the ONLY thing that matters . . . is that states control elections and the Southern states are controlled by rightwing Republicans who are not much better than Klansmen in suits.

    This is what we can expect from the Southern Republican legislatures. In fact, Mississippi and Texas have just announced they are moving ahead with voting restrictions that were outlawed under Section 5.

    Southern Republican legislatures will do everything they can to veep brown, black, young, and Asian people from voting. Make it impossible for college students to cast ballots on campus. Limit the number of voting machines in urban Democratic precincts while ensuring there are plenty of machines available in suburban Republican precincts. Keep felons off the voting rolls, even after they’ve paid their debt to society. Create voter ID laws so restrictive that even drivers licenses aren’t good enough to vote.

    There is no up-side to this.