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August 05, 2013

The voting rights disaster

It has been less than six weeks since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark law that for five decades has protected this country's most basic democratic right. But it is already clear that the decision was a disaster.

Freed of the obligation to seek federal approval before making changes in their election practices, some states have moved to introduce or restore policies that will make it harder for racial minorities to vote or will dilute their political influence. Meanwhile, as any student of contemporary politics could have predicted, a divided Congress shows no sign of moving quickly to adopt a new formula for federal "pre-clearance" of state election changes that would meet the Supreme Court's requirements.

Although the Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting nationwide, only some states, mostly in the South, had been required to obtain advance approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal judge before they changed their election practices. The problem with that, Chief JusticeJohn G. Roberts Jr. said, was that the formula for deciding which states had to "pre-clear" changes was rooted in data from the 1960s and '70s and didn't reflect "current conditions," notably dramatic increases in minority turnout in Southern states.

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