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State GOP urges repealing Voting Rights Act, but Texas Civil Rights Project says it's still needed

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Part of the platform from the recent Texas Republican Party convention opposes using race, origin, creed, sexuality, or lifestyle choices to create voting districts. So, the platform urges repealing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mimi Marziani doubts Congress would do it or that Texans overall would favor such a move. But the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project admits efforts to chip away at the Act have worked.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Efforts to chip away at the Voting Right Act

The Shelby County decision by the US Supreme Court in 2013 was a significant blow to the Voting Rights Act because it took away what used to be Section Five, which was the portion that required certain states, including Texas, with a long history of racial discrimination in voting to pre-clear any new changes to voting laws through the federal government.

Once that was knocked out by the Supreme Court, it not only as a practical matter, gave a green light to states to alter their election laws.

We have seen states like Texas use that to manipulate election laws, to keep people of color and poor folks and people with disabilities and young people and other vulnerable communities from voting. But it also did, I think, send a dangerous message, which has, you know, culminated in some ways with this plank being included in the party platform. 

Is what's left of the Voting Rights Act as protective today as it once was?

No, we have at least two active cases right now.

One is a redistricting case out of Galveston. The other case challenges the new omnibus law that was passed last year, restricting the right to vote for all sorts of people in Texas, including people of color, people with disabilities, and people who speak a language other than English.

So we have brought suit in federal court under section two of the Voting Rights Act, among other sections. So there are portions of the Voting Rights Act which are alive and well.

At the same time, because of that Supreme Court case and because of the ways that it has been, the Voting Rights Act has been weakened since 2006 when it was reauthorized. It is critical that Congress take steps to actually strengthen not just the Voting Rights Act, but the provisions that support the right to vote more generally.

How likely is that unless there's some major partisan shift in Congress?

So you've seen a couple of iterations of bills coming through this Congress.

One is that there is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would have reinstalled Section Five and would have also strengthened the Voting Rights Act in other ways.

Then there is a bill called the Freedom to Vote Act, which focused a little bit more on the election administration's voter registration and trying to ensure that people don't have to wait too long to vote rules around casting ballots by mail.

Those bills were ultimately both passed by the U.S. House. They were modified and combined in the U.S. Senate. And my understanding is there has been bipartisan support for that updated bill. Unfortunately, there is not enough bipartisan support to clear the supermajority hurdle set by the filibuster.

Based on what we've seen in this Congress unless there is a pretty significant shift of opinion among the U.S. Senate or elimination or modification of the filibuster, it does not seem that there is going to be voting rights legislation in the current Congress.

I think I'm clear-eyed about the probably very unlikely chance that we'll see any sort of updated legislation in 2022.

Do we actually need the Voting Rights Act of 1965 today in 2022?

Sadly, yes. I wish I could say that racial discrimination in voting was a thing in the past, but it's not. The first example I'll give you is Texas's photo ID law. I am not at all against provisions that make sure we know people are who they say they are when they show up to vote. That's not what the issue is.

The Texas photo I.D. law picks and chooses winners and losers in the electorate and in fact, had been blocked under the Voting Rights Act by several federal courts originally because it had a disparate impact on Latino and black voters across Texas who were multiple more likely not to have the I.D. they needed to vote.

As soon as we lost the protections of the Voting Rights Act, Texas put that law into place knowing that it would punish black and brown Texans for no other reason than the color of their skin.

I also point to this more recent law, SB One that was passed last year. There are multiple provisions there that we know from research we've done at the Texas Civil Rights Project and that we presented to the Texas Legislature over and over and over. We knew that it would have a disparate impact on people of color in the state of Texas. And that law was passed anyway. 

RESOURCES:

Texas Republican Party Platform

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.