The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been a good tool that has allowed blacks to more freely register to vote, run for office and serve a constituency that had been under- or misrepresented for decades.
It has been so effective the U.S. Supreme Court was right in its decision to eliminate the part of the law that required certain parts of the country to get redistricting plans cleared by the U.S. Justice Department.
After each census, political districts — from local government to Congress — redraw district lines as the population shifts. Louisiana is one of the 15 states required to get “preclearance” from the justice department before a redistricting plan can become law.
The justice department mandate was necessary 48 years ago. Now, however, times have changed. Though many districts have been polarized by the requirement for some political districts to have a majority of black voters, making other districts largely white, it doesn’t always go the way of the majority. We have two examples locally.
New Iberia City Councilman David Merrill, elected to the District 4 seat in 2008 and unopposed last year, represents a majority white district. According to data from the Iberia Parish Registrar of Voters Office, of the 2,926 registered voters in District 4, 1,566 are white, 1,236 are black and 124 are listed as other. If voters simply cast ballots along racial lines, Merrill would not be in office as 53 percent of the district consists of white voters. Merrill won every precinct.
Another example is former Iberia Parish Councilman Larry Richard, who represented Council District 13, a political district consisting of almost 90 percent white registered voters, for several terms. Likely the only reason he is not in office now is that he declined to run for re-election in 2011.
Almost immediately following the high court’s ruling on Tuesday, critics were talking up the photo identification requirements that some states are allegedly using to target poor, black voters. That argument seems to ring hollow, especially in Louisiana because this state for years has required voters show a photo identification to vote. It makes sense as most people have some sort of photo identification in the form of a driver’s license. The state also offers a photo identification card. However, even if one has no license nor ID, registered voters can sign an identification affidavit, a legal document stating you are who you say you are.
The unfairness of forcing some states to have a preclearance mandate and not others seems to be at the root of the court’s decision, but it does not mean the law has been gutted. There likely will be challenges to redistricting plans made by people who believe they are being treated unfairly. The justice department will continue to review and rule on those. Much more of the law remains intact.