Rep. Hank Johnson Claims Confederate “#FlagStillFlies” Until VRA is Renewed

Last Friday, Democrats in the US House and Senate, including Georgia Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, filed the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015. This legislation amends the Voting Rights Act and modernizes the formula that determines which states must submit changes to their voting laws for preclearance by the Department of Justice. The previous formula, contained in Section 4 of the voting rights act, was ruled unconstitutional in the 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013. Since that ruling, many states that were previously covered by preclearance have instituted more restrictive voting laws. Notably, North Carolina dramatically changed their voting rights law after the decision, instituting strict voter ID requirements, slashing early voting, and eliminating same-day voter registration.

The formula established by the Voting Rights Advancement Act would not just impact southern states – states and counties would be subject to preclearance if they met a certain threshold of voting rights violations in the past 25 years. At present this would cover 13 states: 10 former Confederate states (including Georgia) as well as Arizona, California, and New York. While the Voting Rights Act was renewed unanimously in the Senate and with only 33 “no” votes from House Republicans in 2006 (including GA GOP Reps. Nathan Deal, Phil Gingrey, John Linder, Charles Norwood, Tom Price, and Lynn Westmoreland) this year’s bill has only Democratic and independent cosponsors.

Johnson published a Huffington Post op-ed yesterday that explicitly ties the fight to restore the VRA preclearance provisions to ongoing controversy over the Confederate flag.

“In the Jim Crow era, the Confederate battle flag flew over states and counties where African Americans were systematically denied the right to vote. Brave men and women of all races fought against this anti-American and anti-democratic status quo. Many died in the fight. Eventually, the battle for voting rights was won with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, the Court might as well have given license to once again hoist the Confederate battle flag above voting booths in the South and across this country.

Though this emblem of hate, bigotry and racism was lowered in South Carolina, where the Civil War began, it continues to fly figuratively where it does the most harm – in the voting booth – until the VRA is restored, and all Americans can freely exercise their right to vote.”

To get the full historical context behind the VRA and conservatives’ efforts to weaken it, it might be worth your while to sit down with a cup of coffee to digest a new 10,000-word feature from the New York Times on the state of voting rights from the end of the Civil War to the present. While author Jim Rutenberg covers laws to strip voter rolls and efforts to intimidate minority voters undertaken by Southern Democrats during the Jim Crow era, his piece focuses primarily on the fight by to strip protections from minority voters after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

Several Georgians play a role in the story – you’ll read of Hans von Spakovsky, who served on Fulton County’s Board of Rlections, and his Voting Integrity Project’s efforts to “purge” rolls of deceased and felon voters that, famously in Florida before the 2000 election, disenfranchised legitimately registered voters. And our cutting-edge voter ID law gets a mention, too, including Rep. Sue Burmeister’s (R-Augusta) comments reported by the Department of Justice (which she denies having made) on how black voters were less likely to vote without payment.

8 comments

  1. Three Jack says:

    Stop living in the past. It’s simple, show ID – vote, no ID – no vote. Same as when you go to a bank, drive a car, purchase an alcoholic beverage or so many other activities requiring a picture ID.

    Another wedge issue forced into the limelight by desperate dems trying to attract pissed off voters to support their piss poor presidential candidate next year. GOPers use the same tactics with PP videos, ‘religious freedom’, etc. Both parties want angry voters.

    • benevolus says:

      Let’s say you lived in a place where there was only one place to get water. You couldn’t make it, or find it. And they kept making it harder to buy water until one day they make a rule that you can’t comply with. Maybe they need a thumbprint and you lost your thumbs in a horrible accident. But you are also not allowed to get someone else to get water for you. There’s no real reason for them to require a thumbprint, it’s just some mid-level administrators attempt at resume-building.

      Would you be so willing to to say that thumbprint ID is OK?

    • Dave Bearse says:

      The facts of Georgia’s legislation, and its development, don’t support the legislation addressing voter fraud.

      The VRA topic of discussion legislation came into play with initial photo ID legislation that required obtaining photo ID (for a fee, poll tax) without a location to do so in more than a dozen Georgia Counties (imposition).

      There were on the order of only a half dozen cases of in person voter fraud over the course of a decade preceding the legislation.

      There were instances involving hundreds or more fraudulent absentee ballots prior to the legislation.

      The legislation made in-person voting more difficult, and absentee ballots easier.

      There was an instance of 1,500 fraudulent absentee ballots since the legislation, yet the legislation wasn’t changed.

      I leave it to the reader to make their own conclusions about the purpose of legislation tightening in-person voting, while loosening restrictions on absentee ballots that are thousands of times more likely to be involved in fraud. (Hundreds of ballots are amplified to thousands of times more likely to be fraudulent by considering there are far fewer absentee ballots than in-person ballots cast.)

  2. This legislation amends the Voting Rights Act and modernizes the formula that determines which states must submit changes to their voting laws for preclearance by the Department of Justice. The previous formula, contained in Section 4 of the voting rights act, was ruled unconstitutional in the 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013.

    See, THIS is precisely what should have happened in 2006 when Congress reauthorized the VRA. But Congress was complacent and lazy, and renewed the VRA so that it was still governed by 40-year-old data. And then when the Supreme Court (IMO, unsurprisingly) said that 40-year-old data was an unconstitutionally arbitrary standard, they blamed the Court rather than themselves.

    When the VRA was first passed in 1965, the jurisdictions that needed preclearance were based on the voting laws and voter registration data as of November 1964. When the VRA was first renewed in 1970, the pre clearance formula was extended to the election of November 1968. And when it was renewed again in 1975, the formula was amended to include November 1972. Each renewal smartly included an update to utilize more recent data.

    Then when it was renewed a third time, in 1982, the formula wasn’t updated at all, even though two more elections had passed. And even though instead of being renewed for 6 years, it was being renewed for 25 years. And the renewal in 2006 was also for another 25 years.

    In other words, the VRA renewal of 2006 would’ve determined which states deserved federal preclearance scrutiny in 2030 based only upon voting data from 1964, 1968, and 1972. Jurisdictions could bail-out, but there was no provision for *adding* jurisdictions.

    This is why it was ridiculous when politicians and pundits in 2006 would point to Ohio and Florida as reasons why the VRA’s preclearance standards should be renewed, because Ohio and Florida weren’t subject to those standards (only five counties in Florida were). Whatever voter discrimination they may have engaged in after 1972 was irrelevant to preclearance scrutiny. Indeed, only by updating the preclearance formula could Ohio and Florida be added to the list. But objections to the 1975 preclearance formula as outdated and inefficient were dismissed as prejudiced or worse.

    And FINALLY, this new bill addresses that problem, by basing preclearance not on which states and counties were discriminating during the LBJ and Nixon administrations, but which states and counties have been discriminating THIS CENTURY. To wit, from the new bill:

    Any state (and all of its political subdivisions) shall be subject to such requirements for a ten-year period if:
    – 15 or more voting rights violations occurred there during the previous 25 years; or
    – 10 or more voting rights violations occurred during the previous 25 years, at least one of which was committed by the state itself (as opposed to a political subdivision within it).

    Any specific political subdivision of a state shall also be subject to those requirements for a ten-year period if three or more voting rights violations occurred in it during the previous 25 calendar years.

    I’m not yet saying that’s a perfect formula, but it’s considerably better than a formula based on elections before many of us were born. And if Congress had just acknowledged this nine years ago when they renewed the VRA, it would’ve spared everyone a lot of trouble.

    • George Chidi says:

      Correct. One can believe that the VRA is vital, and that the U.S. Supreme Court decided correctly (in essence) by sending this back to Congress to fix. People saw this coming.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    My dislike of grandstanding is bipartisan..

    Updated legislation is in order, but the chance of enacting good substantive legislation isn’t worth the effort required to develop and attempt to enact it.

  4. saltycracker says:

    Friendly amendment; no ID required for fishing and hunting licenses
    Avoiding starvation is more important than voting

  5. SallyForth says:

    “At present this would cover 13 states: 10 former Confederate states (including Georgia) as well as Arizona, California, and New York..” Suh-prise, Suh-prise! A tortuously concocted formula so it would target the Southern states once again. Sounds a lot like the Civil War, if you think about – only in the 21st century they throw in Arizona, California and New York (what ya wanna bet those three would only be temporarily?), trying to put lipstick on the pre-clearance pig. Waving a flag around is not justification for putting the federal boot on the necks of millions of people, plus discriminatorily costing some states millions of dollars trying to jump through fabricated hoops.

    We need to stop with all the Mickey Mouse stuff. If it’s important enough to apply to 13 states, then it should apply to all 50. If not, not. Period. The. End.

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