Monday, August 01, 2016

Officials in rural South accused of deterring black votes after Supreme Court eased Voting Rights Act

Counties and towns, mostly in the rural South, are being accused of making it more difficult for black and minority voters—who often vote Democratic—to cast their ballots, Michael Wines reports for The New York Times. In Sparta, Ga. (Best Places map), "the majority-white Hancock County Board of Elections and Registration was systematically questioning the registrations of more than 180 black Sparta citizens—a fifth of the city’s registered voters—by dispatching deputies with summonses commanding them to appear in person to prove their residence or lose their voting rights."

A lawsuit claims the board was trying to give an edge to white candidates—In November a white mayoral candidate won a narrow victory, Wines writes. "The county attorney, Barry A. Fleming, a Republican state representative, said in an interview that the elections board was only trying to restore order to an electoral process tainted earlier by corruption and incompetence. The lawsuit is overblown, he suggested, because only a fraction of the targeted voters were ultimately scratched from the rolls."

Wines writes, "In Georgia and all or part of 14 other states, the 1965 Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination to receive so-called preclearance before changing the way voter registration and elections were conducted. Three years ago, the Supreme Court declared the pre-clearance mandate unconstitutional, saying the blatant discrimination it was meant to prevent was largely a thing of the past."

"But since the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in the voting-rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, critics argue, the blatant efforts to keep minorities from voting have been supplanted by a blizzard of more subtle changes," Wines writes. "Most conspicuous have been state efforts like voter ID laws or cutbacks in early voting periods, which critics say disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. Less apparent, but often just as contentious, have been numerous voting changes enacted in counties and towns across the South and elsewhere around the country."

Last year "Alabama moved to close 31 driver’s license offices, almost all in rural areas with large African-American populations, as a cost-saving measure," Wines notes. "After lawsuit threats and complaints that the closings would severely curtail local voter registration, the state chose to open the offices at least one day a month. Gov. Robert J. Bentley, a Republican, has strongly denied that the closings were racially motivated." (Read more)

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