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Hanover County now has the power to change voting procedures and polling locations as it pleases.
The Department of Justice has exempted Hanover from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which came to be as a way to address discriminatory voting practices in the south.
Hanover had specifically asked for the exemption prior to action by the Supreme Court on June 24 to strike down key provisions in the act. The ruling shifted responsibility to Congress, which the court said could still impose federal oversight of election laws where it deemed fit. In other words, it will take an act of Congress to regulate elections in states with a history of prejudice.
Prior to the action by the court, exemptions from the Act had already been granted in 24 Virginia localities that believed the law was archaic, that things have changed, and voting practices in Virginia do not discriminate against minorities.
This may be so. But we wonder whether things will change in Virginia and other southern states now that the floodgates are open.
While the issue has definite racial overtones, we doubt Hanover’s motivation for pursuing the exemption centered on a desire to keep minorities out of the polls. If we are to believe Chairman Canova Peterson, the exemption improves access by allowing the county to address access-related issues as they arise. For example, in 2011 the county could not change polling places without federal approval, even though one was not handicap accessible and another wasn’t in the correct voting district.
But can the same be said for the Deep South, where protestors clashed in the streets with police, where black churches burned, where civil rights leaders died?
Sixty years later, it’s doubtful those wounds have healed. And now, protections for those who fought for equality have disappeared.
While exemptions from the Voting Rights Act make sense in some instances, we seriously doubt that everyone’s innocent.
It’s a shame that the only way protections will return to those who need them is through a dysfunctional Congress.