polltax

Sign reminding residents of Mineloa, Texas, to pay their poll tax.

Library of Congress photo

In a statement issued by U.S. Rep. Bill Flores about the appropriations bill signed into law late Friday, he acknowledged that he had reservations about some aspects of the bill but believed the good outweighed the bad. That’s how we view legislation announced late last week to revamp key parts of the Voting Rights Act, fixing what the U.S. Supreme Court says needed fixing.

And if that puts Texas back on the short list of states needing federal pre-clearance— well, blame our state leaders and the way they bungled what should have been far better laws in terms of voter photo ID and redistricting.

Last June, the Supreme Court scrapped Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, making the justifiable case that the act has lately used data as old as four decades in deciding which states must gain pre-clearance from the federal government on election law changes or redistricting. The majority of justices said the law was fine, but that the formula to decide which states were meeting the law’s intent badly needed updating. Fair enough.

Bipartisan legislation proposed last Thursday on Capitol Hill would restore this law’s critical anti-discrimination protections while, too broadly in our opinion, allowing for voter ID laws — often more regulatory than they need to be. It also would require states with five voting violations in the past 15 years — at present, the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia — to again jump through pre-clearance hurdles for the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, it also would allow such states to be freed of such restrictions after 10 years of good behavior — which we see as real incentive for states such as Texas to clean up their act.

One big plus in this bill: Currently states can only be added to the list required to gain DOJ pre-clearance if there is proof of intentional violation. Well, it’s pretty hard to prove what’s in one’s heart. The proposed legislation would warrant inclusion on the list whether the discrimination was intentional or accidental — which we believe might go a long way in making legislators more responsible in how they craft laws, particularly in our state.

While this newspaper has heartily embraced the idea of voters being required to show photo ID at the polls, we have had problems with the Texas law because it made it unnecessarily onerous or expensive for the poor — more likely to be Hispanic or black — to obtain voter IDs if they lack driver’s licenses and/or reside in counties that have no Department of Public Safety offices, which issue IDs.

For some of us lucky in life, this might seem trivial. But consider the case of an African-American in Wisconsin who spent more than $2,000 trying to get birth certificates for her mother and herself, complicated by the fact her mother was born at home in Mississippi during times when blacks had little access to such documentation.

That’s not right. It’s un-American. We should be making it easier for citizens to vote, not encouraging apathy or excluding some from their rightful say at the polls.