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Protection of Voting Rights and the Economy

October 27, 2015
Democracy is a dynamic type of governance. It is formed by organized citizens who exercise their absolute rights directly, and through term-limited elected representatives. The spirit of Democracy is the means to invoke and galvanize the public to form their own government that is responsible to the people. While it is a modern era, and it is more than half a century since the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, the right to vote is not always protected. The most pressing issue is voter suppression.

By Emma Laine Leibman, C’16

To most, the right to vote is inalienable and undeniable. Currently, there is heated debate regarding the Shelby County vs. Holder case which challenges a major provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Some argue in favor of the provision, saying it protects minorities’ right to vote, while others argue against the provision stating it further fosters racism. As Steve Sweeney has been quoted saying, “We should be encouraging participation because the more people vote the more the government itself would look like the state rather than special interest groups.”[1]

The hotly contested provision, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states that before any changes “all or part of 16 states must convince the federal government that the changes won’t amount to denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.” [2] A citizen’s voting right does not only correlate to their level of democracy but it also correlates to and can be directly related to economic stability. Specifically, following the ruling in 1965 it was proven that “black citizens shared more fairly in public services, public-sector jobs, and municipal contracts. Beyond racial equity, voting rights ushered in an era of competitive two-party politics in southern states, channeling public energies toward growth-enhancing investments in schools, transportation, and recreational facilities.” In essence, there was a direct correlation and relationship between the Voting Rights Act and the quality of life for African- Americans following the decision.   

House of Representatives Roll Call Sheet from 1964

While it may seem counter to popular belief, the net black in-migration into the South has continued to rise, and the opportunities are better there than elsewhere in the country. It essentially provided a sharp shift up in income prospects for black people in the South, mainly for those who had very limited education… there was a dramatic change in its day, although those kinds of jobs are much harder to find nowadays.[3]

The question now at hand is who has the power to say that the VRA is no longer needed? And furthermore what credible factors can be attributed and used as evidence that the economic positives far outplay any negatives that have been delineated. It has been argued that any change in the structure of competition in the political arena can and will undermine the commitments of political parties. Moreover, these changes could have devastating impacts to the Electoral College and the strategic assumptions that underlie it. It is being argued, largely by the Democratic Party, that this persistent application of federal policing power is still necessary to maintain the robust economic climate for those who have questionable voting rights.

In an era when same sex marriage is legal in all 50 states and an African-American man is the president of the United States it is paradoxical that voting rights are not guaranteed and must be protected. Studies show that the monetary and political economy is positively affected by the protection of voting rights. A true democracy instills a sense of not only voting power, but buying power. Now is not the time to take away or hinder someone’s ability to be a part of the electoral process, rather every citizen, should be a part of the process. Not only because that is what is delineated in our constitution, but because the social and economic implications are clear.

Ultimately, the key issue has yet to be resolved. In a recent press release by Minority House Leader, Nancy Pelosi, she highlights perhaps the most essential problem and the most pressing reason behind the maintenance of section 5:  “The right to vote is the most fundamental right in our democracy.  It is the foundation of freedom and vital to ensuring that all Americans live in a just and fair society. Yet in too many places across America, this right has been diluted or denied. Two years ago, the Supreme Court decided to dismantle key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that protects Americans’ right to be heard at the ballot box. Fifty years after the march to the ballot in Selma and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we must act anew to defend and advance the right to vote.  We cannot wait.  With the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, we will reassert the rights of all Americans and reaffirm the full promise of our democracy. We must, once and for all, stop the despicable attempts to stand between citizens and the ballot box.”[4]

  [1] “Sorry, New York Times, You Don’t Get The Voting Rights Issue Either - IVN.us.” IVNus. July 9, 2015. Accessed July 13, 2015.

  [2] “The Economics of Voting Rights.” ‘Harvard University Press Blog ’ March 8, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2015.

  [3] “Why We Still Need Section 5.” The American Prospect. Accessed June 20, 2015.

  [4] “Pelosi Statement on Introduction of Voting Rights Advancement Act - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. June 24, 2015. Accessed June 25, 2015.

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