A congressional effort to again make certain states, including Mississippi, preclear any election-related changes with the federal government before they are implemented is probably going nowhere.
Even though the proposal passed the Democratic-controlled House earlier this month, it’s unlikely to be advanced in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.
Just as well.
These preclearance provisions, which were contained in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, had been left in place for too long, and the U.S. Supreme Court correctly found them unconstitutional six years ago.
What was designed in 1965 to rid the country of discrimination had become discriminatory itself. It said that nine complete states and parts of seven others, because of their past efforts to keep blacks and other minorities from voting and holding elective office, deserved to be presumed “guilty until proven innocent.” Unlike the other 75 percent of the nation, these targeted areas had to get approval in advance from the U.S. Justice Department — a time-consuming and expensive process — for any election change they might make, no matter how minor.
When these preclearance requirements came up for review, they were routinely renewed by Congress, making no allowance for the progress that the covered states had made in diversifying their elected governmental bodies and in race relations in general.
When the Supreme Court tossed out Section 5, it did leave open the door for Congress to update its data to see what parts of the country, if any, cannot be trusted to do right without the veto power of the Justice Department hanging over their heads. The bill passed by the House would reportedly put Mississippi and 10 other states back under preclearance requirements based on how they have behaved over the past 25 years.
Not only is the premise unfair that a state today can be judged based on what it did as far back as the early 1990s, it also is unnecessary.
There are plenty of avenues to challenge any election-related changes that can be shown to be discriminatory. Not only can civil rights organizations sue, but the U.S. Justice Department maintains a whole division with vast investigatory and legal resources to pursue any bad actors.
That threat should be good enough everywhere.