Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Another anachronism of the Voting Rights Act

The Wall Street Journal highlights how racial gerrymandering of majority-minority districts is an anachronistic holdover in the Voting Rights Act. The VRA was passed over 40 years ago when blacks were regularly being disenfranchised and included provisions requiring "preclearance" or federal oversight of local election practices. However, there is no evidence that blacks are still being disenfranchised. As one way of meeting those requirements, states gerrymandered districts designed to elect black representatives. Yet, the Republicans and Democrats are doubleteaming to maintain those districts because it benefits both parties. The Democrats get a guaranteed Democratic member elected and the GOP dilutes the Democratic vote in other districts. As the WSJ points out, the unintended consequence of having such gerrymandering is that it encourages black politicians to be racially divisive since they don't have to appeal to white voters. The example now is New York's 11th Congressional District where a white candidate has the temerity to have thrown his hat into the ring against three black candidates to succeed Congressman Major Owens.
Representative Owens has labeled Mr. Yassky a "colonizer." Al Sharpton, ever the statesman, has called the candidate, who is Jewish, "greedy." And the New York Sun reported last week that Albert Vann, a city councilman who opposes Mr. Yassky's candidacy, sent an email to black elected officials nationwide announcing that "we are in peril of losing a 'Voting Rights' district . . . as a result of the well financed candidacy of Council Member David Yassky, a white individual."

Ironically, such rhetoric is one reason so few minorities are able to seek and win higher office. Once you're appealing to people on completely racial grounds in order to win a House seat, you have a hard time making the broader appeals necessary to win statewide.
But don't expect any of this to matter as Congress ramrods through another extension of the provisions that feed these bad outcomes. A House vote is due any day, and the Senate is expected to follow sometime prior to the July 4 recess. Congress has never let balkanization of the electorate get in the way of protecting its own political hide, especially when it can claim to be siding with the "voting rights" angels.

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