Editorial: Is the Voting Rights Act an archaic statute?

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 11:03 am

Earlier this week, legislation that would make it OK under the rule of law for unmarried couples to cohabitate cleared a State Senate committee. The law, which defined unmarried couples who live together as engaging in “lewd and lascivious” behavior, had been on Virginia’s books since 1877 and was punishable by a $500 fine for a first offense and up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine for any subsequent offense.

This archaic law, likely drafted by candlelight by a legislator with a waxed mustache and top hat, is laughable, and we applaud the General Assembly for helping (in this case) to modernize our state code.

Hanover last week addressed what it perceives as an archaic law, the circa-1965 Voting Rights Act, drafted to address Southern states’ reluctance to hold fair and equal elections. Hanover hopes to join the 24 counties and six independent cities in the state that have been granted waivers for pre-clearance by the Department of Justice.

This essentially means that Hanover no longer wants to have to ask the federal government for permission to change local voting precincts or procedures. Local officials expect to have preliminary data to the DOJ by the end of January. If all goes according to plan and a three-judge panel grants the waiver, the process could be finalized by July.

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was established. A lot’s changed in the Old Dominion. We’d like to think that every county now has moral decency to hold fair and equal elections.

When the Act became the law of the land, federal intervention was necessary. Practices such as the poll tax, literacy test or organized harassment were rampant in the south as a way to keep minorities out of the polls. Voting rights activists were even murdered in Mississippi.

That was then. Today’s villains of democracy wage voter registration scams, as revealed in the past presidential election where a GOP contractor was charged with 13 counts of voter fraud after registration forms were found in a dumpster. There was also the vote-by-phone scam that targeted senior citizens.

The truth is democracy isn’t perfect. Sometimes it’s ugly. As long as there’s a vote, there will be someone that tries to steal it.

Disenfranchisement is alive and well, make no mistake about it. But it isn’t driven by racist ideology. There aren’t goons with billy clubs and bats keeping us out of the polls.

Today’s disenfranchisement comes from gerrymandered voting districts and from political machines with deep-enough pockets to buy elections.

Maybe that’s what the federal government should  be addressing.

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