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The SPLC accidentally affirms Alabama's election laws

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 9/28/2021 Steve Marshall
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In preparing the definitive case for reimposing preclearance on Alabama election laws, the Southern Poverty Law Center and its partners unwittingly made it clear that there is no serious case to be made for it.

In 1965, Congress responded to the persistent and widespread denial of voting rights by enacting the Voting Rights Act. To stop states from enacting discriminatory voting laws quicker than courts could enjoin them, Congress required that Alabama and five other states that had used discriminatory voting tests in the 1964 presidential election seek permission — or preclearance — from federal authorities before implementing new voting procedures.  

The preclearance provision was initially set to expire within five years, but Congress reauthorized the act with tweaks to the coverage formula in 1970 and 1975. Then Congress began reauthorizing the act for longer stretches without bothering to revisit the preclearance provision. The U.S. Supreme Court deemed preclearance unconstitutional in 2013, explaining that it constituted an “extraordinary departure from the traditional course of relations between the States and the Federal Government,” which could be justified only when problems were equally extraordinary. The “unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution” in 1965 qualified, the court said, but Congress could not simply point to those long-gone conditions to justify the prescription today. A new case, based on current conditions, would have to be made.

Enter the current push for preclearance and the SPLC’s report. Last month, the Alabama-based activist organization — one of the largest and best-funded in the nation — offered its report on voting rights in Alabama to the House Committee on the Judiciary. Other contributors include the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights and the Brennan Center for Justice. The argument of the nearly 400-page compendium is simple: that preclearance is needed because (the report ludicrously contends) Alabama’s goal is “to establish white supremacy in th[e] State.”

This accusation would be humorous were it not so serious. Yet the report is not without value. It shows that even when some of the best-capitalized activist groups in the country take aim at Alabama to justify reimposing preclearance, they have to resort to misleading narratives, glaring omissions, and easily debunked contentions to make their case — which they still miss by a mile.

In 1969, only 19.3% of black Alabamians were registered to vote, compared to 69.2% of whites. Nearly a half-century later, Alabama had the second-highest black voter registration rate in the nation. In 2016, black voters in Alabama turned out at higher rates than white voters by 4.6% — 60.2% compared to 55.6%. By comparison, Connecticut that year saw a racial divide of 13.1% going the other way: 61% of whites voted compared to just 47.9% of black voters.

In 1965, Congress had before it a record of “pervasive,” “flagrant,” “widespread,” and “rampant” discrimination. Today, the SPLC supports its claim of widespread discrimination by relying on a declaration from an Alabama voter whose chief complaint is that when he went to vote in 2018, a poll worker initially had trouble finding his name on the voter rolls; the voter eventually cast a ballot once the poll worker found his name. This declaration is not an outlier in the group. It is the best evidence the SPLC could come up with.

In 1965, Congress confronted poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, the SPLC says Alabama’s photo ID law is the modern equivalent. The law has been upheld in federal court. In fact, in two years of litigation, the challengers could not identify a single voter in the state who lacked an ID and could not get one. Neither has the SPLC. The state makes photo IDs available for free, and the secretary of state’s mobile unit will literally drive to a voter’s house to provide a free ID.

In 1965, Congress had to contend with a litany of state and local officials who shamelessly encouraged voter suppression. Today, the SPLC identifies the Alabama secretary of state as a modern-day “champion” of “voter suppression.” The reason? His efforts to fight voter fraud, which the SPLC labels a “well-documented myth.”

But what is well documented — in courts, in arrest files, in overturned election results — is that voter fraud is all too real in Alabama. In 2016, Alabama saw two mayoral elections overturned because of voter fraud. In 2013, four campaign volunteers for a Dothan city commissioner were arrested and charged with voter fraud; thanks to their “volunteering,” their candidate received 131 of the 140 absentee votes and won the election. In 2006, a black candidate in Mobile nearly lost his election for state House because of voter fraud. The list goes on.

In 1965, the facts justified extraordinary action by Congress. Today, as all nine members of the Supreme Court recognized over a decade ago, “[t]hings have changed in the South” — dramatically. Alabama, like our union, is not perfect, and the state will continue to work to make voting easy and secure for all Alabamians. But preclearance is not needed. The SPLC’s new report shows as much.

Steve Marshall is the attorney general of Alabama. 

 

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Tags: Opinion, Op-Eds, Alabama, SPLC, Voting, Voter ID Laws, Voter Fraud, Racial Discrimination

Original Author: Steve Marshall

Original Location: The SPLC accidentally affirms Alabama's election laws

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