Federal Government Commitment Needed to Protect Voting Rights of Historically Marginalized People, Fraga Says | News | Notre-Dame news

July 27, Luis Fraga, Reverend Donald P. McNeill, CSC, Professor of Latino Transformative Leadership at the University of Notre Dame, testified via Zoom at the House of Representatives Subcommittee hearing on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Freedoms civilians on “The need to improve the voting rights law: practice-based coverage. “

The hearing took place as Congress considers amending Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act through the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. (also known as HR 4) this would revive and strengthen parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act deals with a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated preclearance rules.

“The practice-based preclearance provision isolates the practices that states have historically used to restrict or deny the right to vote, and it does so without targeting a particular jurisdiction or geographic area,” said Witness Franita Tolson of the USC Gould School of Law. The preclearance provision required states to allow the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to review and approve potentially discriminatory changes to their election laws.

Congressman Steve Cohen, chairman of the Judicial Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, noted that there is a close relationship between some voting laws and policies – such as the consolidation or relocation of polling stations and changing jurisdictional boundaries – and electoral discrimination based on race, color or linguistic minority status. “Additionally, historical evidence shows that when the percentage of a state or county’s racial or ethnic minority population reaches a certain tipping point, there is an increased likelihood that the jurisdiction will engage in a violation. voting rights, ”he said. “That is, in areas where there is an emerging minority group that at some point becomes large enough to threaten the existing, white-dominated power structure of the jurisdiction, the risk is greatly increased. that the white-dominated power structure responds by trying to suppress the right to vote from members of the emerging minority group.

Fraga was invited to participate in the hearing on the basis of his expertise in voting rights policy as well as the history of Latin politics. He also provided the subcommittee with his report “Dilution of the Vote and Deprivation of the Vote in US History”. In the report, Fraga chronicles a myriad of attempts to prevent different minority groups from voting from the founding of the country until the 1975 expansion and renewal of the Voting Rights Act.

“What we learn from the history of the United States is that without a clear and strong commitment from the federal government, we cannot depend on state and local jurisdictions to protect the voting rights of people. racial, ethnic, linguistic and other historically marginalized minorities, voters, ”said Fraga in his opening statement.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, echoed Cohen’s sentiments, calling preclearance “the most powerful enforcement tool in our history.” He also noted that the Latin American community is growing exponentially and that this growth will mean Latino voters will approach the numbers where they could, as Cohen described it, threaten the existing, white-dominated power structure in the city. these districts. “Too many people will see the growth of the Latin American community as a threat,” Saenz said.

John C. Yang, chairman and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said restoring and strengthening the voting rights law (by passing HR 4) is a top priority for his organization. He highlighted the “otherness” of Asian Americans and the increase in anti-Asian violence since the start of the pandemic. He gave several examples of negative attitudes towards Asian Americans and the obstacles they face when trying to exercise their right to vote. One example he gave was of a Texas lawmaker at a state House of Representatives hearing in 2009 suggesting that Asian Americans “are adopting names that are easier for Americans to deal with.” in order to avoid the difficulties imposed on them by the laws on voter identification ”. With the exponential growth of the Asian American population (23 million at the 2020 census) and an increasing number of Asian American political candidates, Yang said, there is “an increase in racial appeals against American candidates. Asian-American voters and efforts to erect ballot barriers for Asian-American voters.

“This story of voter suppression and efforts such as the implementation of general elections has happened in many different parts of the country – targeting different groups and at different times,” Fraga said. “It is very important that there is continued vigilance, because every time that vigilance has been removed, every time enforcement efforts to protect voting rights have been removed, every time in the history of our country, there has been an equivalent movement to try to limit the voting rights of particular segments of our population. This vigilance seems to me possible and absolutely necessary when one reconsiders the nature of section 4 (of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ).

Bernard Fraga of Emory University, whose research focuses on quantitative analyzes of U.S. elections, found a significant difference between counties with large minority voters and those with fewer minority voters.

“About two-thirds of counties where a minority group represents more than 20% of the voting age population have had at least one voting rights lawsuit filed against them since 1982,” said Bernard Fraga. “That’s about four times the rate we see in counties with a smaller share of the minority population.”

Judicial Watch’s Republican witness T. Russell Nobile disagrees with Luis and Bernard Fraga, Saenz, Yang and other witnesses, calling John Lewis’ voting rights law a “cure in search of ‘a problem “. He claimed that the Justice Department’s own data did not support the argument that without pre-clearance, the lawsuits overwhelmed the Department. Citing a growing number of minority voters, he asserted that the accounts of voter suppression are false and said some are calling Jim Crow 2.0’s common sense election regulations “to ignite passions.” Lawyer Bryan P. Tyson, also a Republican witness, said HR 4 is tantamount to injecting the federal government into extremely local issues.

Luis Fraga drew a parallel between the time just before Jim Crow – when more than half a million African Americans voted and elected significant numbers of African Americans to national, state and municipal offices – to today ‘hui. In what Fraga called “partisan competition,” a series of procedures were adopted after a mass vote by African Americans to ensure that the number of minority voters never constitutes a majority.

“The parallel I see (today) is that there is great concern that the small margins that characterize election results may be affected by current methods of voter suppression,” said Luis Fraga.

Reactivating preclearance and other laws from the 1965 Voting Rights Act through HR 4, Fraga wrote in his report, “would increase the likelihood that all voters would have an equal opportunity to vote and to vote. ‘cast a meaningful vote. Only then will one of the most fundamental ideals of American democracy have a chance to come true. “

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