Home » Uncategorized » Bloody Missouri, or Why the Voting Rights Act Matters

Bloody Missouri, or Why the Voting Rights Act Matters

People in Ferguson, Missouri didn’t protest  recent high-profile election-related Supreme Court decisions like McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-536_e1pf.pdf); Shelby County v. Holder (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-96_6k47.pdf); or Citizen’s United v. Federal Elections Commission (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf). They protested a history of institutional racism in their community, and the visible consequence of that racism in the form of a dead unarmed black teenager who had been shot six times by a white city police officer.

But arguably, part of the reason why there is a history of institutional racism in Ferguson is because notwithstanding the fact that two-thirds of the town’s inhabitants are African-American, the city government and local law enforcement are dominated by whites, and that whites preserve their power because of the way that elections are conducted in Ferguson. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/08/15/how-ferguson-exposes-the-racial-bias-in-local-elections/

The Missouri GOP certainly understands the value of elections in preserving the Ferguson status-quo, given how angry they are that anyone would be so bold as to try to register the town’s citizens to vote. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119141/ferguson-voter-registration-drive-infuriates-conservatives

Neither the State of Missouri nor any of the jurisdictions within that State were ever subject to the mandatory preclearance requirements imposed by Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. It’s not as though annexations or changes in voting procedures in that community would ever have been preemptively reviewed for discriminatory effects. Nevertheless, both the City of Ferguson and the State of Missouri are (like all other jurisdictions in the U.S.) subject to civil and criminal prosecution for violations of civil rights laws generally, including the Voting Rights Act.

I think Ferguson’s special brand of Midwestern apartheid is as good an argument as any for establishing much more extensive Federal regulation of local elections, simultaneously answering those critics of the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act that those requirements were selectively punitive towards Southern jurisdictions, while at the same time pushing other regional discrimination onto the Department of Justice’s radar.

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