Charles D. Ellison
It is a new era — transitioning from the age of information superhighways and dot-com bubbles to what is being described as the endless interconnectivity of where we live, what we drive and what we wear.
Observers are comparing it to the 19th century Industrial Revolution in terms of its global scale and impact. “We have reached that same point of critical mass,” argued O’Reilly Media’s Glen Martin recently. “This goes far beyond the development of new consumer products. Open source hardware and software already are allowing the easy integration of programmatic interfaces with everything from weather stations to locomotives. Large, complicated systems — water delivery infrastructure, power plants, sewage treatment plants, office buildings — will be made intelligent by these software and sensor packages, allowing real-time control and exquisitely efficient operation.”
It is a brave new world. From the proliferation of smartphones in every household to the invisible expansiveness of wireless networks that are becoming as valuable as air. Census Bureau studies now show 71 percent of U.S. households have older landlines, with the number of cell phone-only households at near 30 percent and rising fast. The cell phone adoption rates for youth 12 to 17 hit nearly 80 percent, according to Pew Research, and now adult cell phone usage has hit a high of 91 percent — an increase of 40 percent since 2004.
But can society keep up with the costs of these innovations and the vast expanse of new opportunities the Internet can provide? It’s a worrisome question nagging many experts watching the technologies unfold and that policymakers have not yet aggressively addressed, or grasped in their slow attempt to regulate the technology space. The conversation is multi-faceted and complex, as well, as politicians and advocates are pushing for greater technological adaptation in communities and schools, but faced with the reality that 30 percent of Americans are still without high speed broadband connections. The “digital divide” discussion, pervasive during the Internet’s boom years, has shifted from highlighting racial demographic access disparities to now debate over whether or not the average American household is being pinched by the cost of new tech necessities like cell phone devices, broadband and wireless routers that were unknown just 20 years ago.
“There is definitely a digital secularization that’s occurring,” observes Dr. Louis J. Hutchinson, Founder and Chair of nonprofit Restore Together and author of “Restore Together: Urban Ministry in the Context of Technology and Energy in the 21st Century.” “We can either let technology continue to exasperate the oppression of the less fortunate, or harness it as a tool to propel them to greater heights.”
The explosion of individual and household digitalization has also led to the introduction of new innovations that once seemed like science fiction, but are now new realities of the constantly growing technological landscape. Tech giant Google is in the process of developing driverless cars and it’s already launched expensive Google Glasses, a quirky entrance into techno-fashion that has spawned as much controversy over etiquette as it has concerns about privacy and data security.
Sifting through the enthusiasm surrounding a driverless car future, technology writer Chuck Tannert framed it recently within the context of the “drives versus the drive-nots.”
“So, who, exactly are self-driving cars for?” Tannert asked in Fast Company recently. “Fairness aside, cost will be an issue for driverless and self-driving car technologies well into the future. To provide all the vehicle electronic functionality, automakers must add complexity and unnecessary weight (wires, sensors and other components/modules) to a car. This can affect the cost of the vehicle, its performance, and how much it costs to keeping the vehicle on the road.”
There are larger questions beyond just driverless cars. Google Glass costs $1,500 per pair. Household spending on electronic products has risen by nearly 20 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Meanwhile, 20 percent of what’s called non-Internet users by the Pew Internet and Life Project don’t access the Internet simply because they can’t afford it — and half of all those who have no home online access whatsoever cite cost as a major barrier.
That may have created a situation whereby users, especially more traditionally underserved or disadvantaged Black and Latino users, are accessing the Internet primarily through a mobile device.
“It definitely merits watching,” argues Internet Innovation Alliance co-Chair Larry Irving, in a discussion with the Philadelphia Tribune. Irving has watched the issue and the space closely — in fact, he coined the term “digital divide” while heading the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration during the Clinton administration.
But Irving cautions that what might seem like a divide at first glance is a simple recalibration of consumer tastes and reductions in price points as devices become cheaper. “You have to trust consumers on this,” Irving said. “Blacks and Latinos are more likely to spend more money on their devices than their non-minority counterparts, more than Cable TV and Direct TV. It’s because of the relatively low cost and connectivity, and they’re using wireless more.”
It’s unclear how much of a role Washington will play on the issue as lawmaker concerns over data privacy and security, prompted by recent thefts of consumer information at retailers like Target, have trumped any policy discussion on how the cost of technology impacts average Americans. As wages remain stagnant and personal incomes deflate, retailers and observers worry about the short and long term economic outlook.
“If you don’t have access to the technology then you don’t have access to do simple things like finding a job,” warns Hutchinson. “There is growing non-inclusion in technology that’s concerning. We’ve got to begin to think around that context.”
That birther issue you thought went away? It just keeps bubbling.
At least that’s the finding of one of the more recent YouGov/Economist polls on the subject. What started off as a quiet examination into the American populace’s thoughts on where the future Barack Obama Presidential library should be located ended up getting sidetracked by persistent doubts regarding the location of the president’s birth.
It’s a complex and vexing issue, for sure, that was debated incessantly over the course of two presidential elections. Based on recent surveys, the issue could also explode into a thorny batch of political problems for Democrats heading into the 2014 elections. The Black guy with the non-Anglicized name can’t seem to shake stubbornly-held doubt that he is a native born American citizen.
Congressional Democrats, already faced with effective messaging beat downs from Republicans on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, could fear guilt by association. What could make the political equation even more complex is the vexing question of Obama’s birthplace. When YouGov asked a reliable sample of 1,000 respondents whether they thought the statement “Barack Obama was born in the United States” was true or false, 38 percent said “false.”
Which means that nearly 4 out of 10 Americans still doubt the president was born in Hawaii as confirmed by his birth certificate. That view is continuing to dredge up one of the most annoyingly consequential issues to ever hit American politics.
“We’ve asked about where people think Obama was born several times over the past few years,” said YouGov’s Chief Scientist Doug Rivers in an email exchange with the Tribune. “Most recently, we asked about where the Obama presidential library should be located — since this was in the news.”
“We offered options such as Illinois & Hawaii, but also an open-ended text box, in which 87 people [nearly 9 percent of the sample] said ‘Kenya,’ which caused us to re-ask the question about where Obama was born in another poll a few days later.”
The initial survey on Obama presidential library locations found that, in total, 12 percent of Americans felt that the project should end up in Kenya, somewhere in Africa or the much more innocuous “someplace else.”
But, once the re-ask was all said and done, YouGov found that a full 15 percent of Americans “know for sure” that President Obama is not from the United States.
While those numbers appear a bit paltry in the grander scheme of things, they hold a powerful punch electorally. Voter turnout during midterm elections, which is substantially influenced by voter perceptions of the party in the White House, has typically been 20 percentage points lower than turnout during presidential elections, according to data collected by the George Mason University Elections Project.
Additionally, the groups most likely to harbor doubts about President Obama’s origins are those white and 65 or older. About 52 percent of voters 65 plus believe the statement “Barack Obama was born in the United States” is false, as well as 44 percent of white voters overall.
This presents a pickle for Congressional Democrats looking to maintain their Senate majority in 2014 and hoping for a miracle shot at the House majority, too. Those voters 65 and up represented 17 percent and 21 percent of the electorate in 2010 and 2012 — and white voters actually turn out more during Congressional elections than presidential cycles.
Interestingly enough, a previous YouGov poll from August showed these same Americans choking on a double-standard when 77 percent suggested that anyone born to an American-citizen mother could be classified as a “natural born” American. That question was asked in the wake of a short-lived controversy in which it was discovered tea party ally and 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was born in Canada. The brief political kerfuffle led to Cruz publicly renouncing his Canadian citizenship. But it did not stop his Cuban-born father and confidante Rafael Cruz (who was once a revolutionary fighter for Fidel Castro) from spouting birther conspiracy theories about President Obama during recent town halls.
And research by Centre College professor Benjamin Knoll suggests an emerging nativist or anti-foreigner movement is driving opposition to the Affordable Care Act, as 45 percent of opponents view both the law and its creator as a foreign threat.
“Certain public policy debates can become racialized when elected officials and political pundits make efforts to link a policy to racial minority groups in the population through their public arguments and political rhetoric,” wrote Knoll in the study. “This theory can also extend to our study of health care reform and nativism. If elected officials discuss the ACA in the context of social groups or ideas that have un-American overtones, the two issues can become linked in the minds of many Americans.”
While the YouGov poll found 23 percent (aside from the initial 15) only believing it is possible Obama was born in the U.S., 13 percent of independents believe he wasn’t, as well as 28 percent of Republicans. The last bit of data comes as no surprise. The 38 percent of Republicans who think it’s only possible he was born in the U.S. (perhaps hiding their real feeling on the issue) presents a real issue for Democrats who are worried their voters may not show up in numbers on Election Day.
Interestingly enough, 20 percent of African Americans in the YouGov poll believe the statement that Obama was born in the U.S. is “false.”
If you spend hours on MSNBC watching either super wonk Rachel Maddow or Philly homeboy Chris Matthews slam New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with wall-to-wall coverage of what’s now called “Bridgegate,” you’d think the once unstoppable Republican has little chance of running for president in 2016.
The embattled Christie, however, doesn’t seem to think so. And he’s probably got enough polling and fundraising data to back him up.
While it’s clear the unfolding Garden State scandal has hit Christie hard, it’s not exactly clear that he’s down and out. While most observers and strategists would strongly advise Christie to lay low and govern, there is an emerging consensus within his own party that maybe he should stick around and swing back harder, a sign that Republicans are still nervously undecided on who their 2016 nominee should be.
“Honestly, as insane as this might sound, Christie is still a strong choice,” says one exasperated Republican strategist speaking anonymously due to their close ties with GOP hopefuls. “These other guys either scare us or put us to sleep.”
Even after his post-Sandy beachside bonding with President Obama shamed them in 2012, many establishment center-right Republicans had banked on a Christie revival as the Jersey machine leader took the reins of the Republican Governors Association. In some ways, that formula could be working. According to the latest RGA disclosures, the organization raised a whopping $6 million in January alone — double the last January record RGA high. With $50 million raised and $50 million cash on hand, the powerful GOP governors club also has double the loot it had in 2010, when it was under slick Mississippi Republican power broker Gov. Haley Barbour.
During a recent trip to Texas, Christie — a Northeastern governor – managed to raise $1.5 million.
Those lucrative fundraising numbers, among other things, could explain what’s restoring some of Christie’s famous brashness. During a recent speech at the Economic Club of Chicago, Christie openly mocked Democrats about “income inequality” in a newfound public moment of conservative corporatism, comparing them to squabbling kids.
“You want income equality? That is mediocrity,” Christie said. “Everybody can have an equal, mediocre salary.”
It was an interesting take on the subject from a re-elected governor presiding over a diverse blue state with a 25 percent poverty rate and a 32 percent child poverty rate.
Those comments seemed masterfully timed against the backdrop of aggressive swipes at the New York Times for its recent coverage of the Bridgegate scandal. As Christie struggles to regain posture and credibility, his communications office is painting recent hits from outlets such as the Times and MSNBC as skewed and partisan-driven.
But in reality, it’s a carefully scripted Christie calculus tailored for skeptical hardline conservatives who never really liked him in the first place. Setting himself up as the victim of what he’s calling liberal media bias, and invoking the names of some of the most hated outlets on the political left may prove to be an effective play as the governor gears up for a Republican presidential primary in 2016.
To win it, Christie must endear himself to blocs of tea party, evangelical and anti-immigrant conservatives who always viewed him as a center-left moderate. Already, Christie is slated to headline the Conservative Political Action Committee (or CPAC) conference taking place at National Harbor, Md. in March. Some observers say that excessive MSNBC coverage of Christie’s troubles may actually help lift him over a highly conservative Republican primary hurdle that once seemed insurmountable, the same way Fox News’ obsession with the innocuous Benghazi controversy rallies Democratic voters around presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Christie may have always been viewed as a presidential favorite by many pundits poking around the tea leaves. But that was never really a serious proposition if he couldn’t get pass belligerent conservatives in the primary. It didn’t help his case when those same activists on the right were still smarting from his famous photo-op with President Obama that many say sealed the coffin shut for GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s bid.
While polls show that Christie’s lead has evaporated considerably since the Bridgegate scandal first captured national attention, they’re also showing he’s got some room to leverage if he plans on pushing a presidential bid in two years. Should the Jersey boss choose to do so, many strategists believe that much of the Fort Lee, N.J. bridge scandal will be old news by 2016 — unless state and federal investigators find a hot smoking gun under Christie’s political bed.
Thus, Christie is making an ambitious gamble that, given the typically short memories of voters, the scandal will be way behind him.
Christie could be seeing what recent polling tables are discovering. The most recent results from YouGov’s statistical Opigram profile of Christie still shows his positives just an inch higher than his negatives. And despite portrayals of Christie as a Trenton bully, his positivity rankings are still much higher than most Republican public figures, with his fan profile — interestingly enough — skewing slightly female.
With former Arkansas Gov. and Fox News host Mike Huckabee gaining steam in recent GOP polling, Christie has much work to do. But Huckabee is only a few points ahead. Christie’s favorables, according to YouGov, are still in the 30 percent or above range, with 46 percent of Republican voters holding a favorable view of him and more than 40 percent of voters in the Northeast also viewing him favorably. And more than 30 percent of voters from ages 18-29 are still undecided on whether they like him or not. The latest YouGov poll also found Christie with two percentage points more favorability among women than men, in addition to 26 percent of African Americans viewing him “somewhat favorably” compared to 25 percent of whites.
And according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, Christie is still in second place at a national average of 13 percent in a field of nine likely Republican nominees for 2016. A recent McClatchy/Marist College poll dropped last week actually had him tied with Huckabee.
Still, when matched against Hillary Clinton in a presumed 2016 match-up, Christie continues to fall hard. He’s now behind by 21 points in that same McClatchy/Marist poll, falling by 8 points since January. Another Quinnipiac poll also shows Clinton ahead by a bruising 58 points to his 31 points.
“People are a long way from forming voting choices,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, told McClatchy. “But right now, Clinton is having her way with the field.”
Black Republicans are trying to make a comeback.
How that works, though, remains a mystery to many observers and even to most African-American Republicans themselves. Being a Black Republican is hard enough — amassing political clout and influence is much harder and much more complex. They are trapped in a cosmos of contradictions: some of them tokenized or occasionally put on rock star pedestals by their party as a result of their skin color, yet many forced to take race-neutral or colorblind policy positions less threatening for largely white audiences.
The pressure is enormous as they are constantly floating between two worlds, one where they are celebrated novelties desperately tapped for minority outreach, and another where they are hapless cultural pariahs rejected by their peers as traitors and sellouts.
That paradigm could be changing in 2014. While GOP enthusiasm mounts for a retake of the Senate, the Republican National Committee is spicing up its Black minority outreach operations. Not that there’s any expectation of a sudden groundswell of grassroots support for the GOP from African Americans — in fact, most observers laugh that off as fiction. But, Republican strategists hope that this Congressional midterm cycle could give Black voters something to think about, or maybe pause long enough to take a broader look at the political landscape.
“The response to the RNC’s initiative to engage Black voters and share our positive message has been phenomenal,” said an eternally optimistic Orlando Watson, a fairly new Communications Director for Black Media at GOP party central. “We still have work to do. It will take time. But our efforts have been paying off and will continue to do so.”
“President Obama has made promises to improve the condition of those in the Black community, but his policies have done the opposite and people looking for better results have been giving the Republican Party a chance.”
Black voters, however, show no sign of shifting allegiances anytime soon, even if their unemployment rate — as Watson and other Republicans love to point out in talking points — is double the national average under the first Black president. Republicans still can’t beat the cultural confidence lift that comes out of a functional Black family in the White House. There are no signs on the horizon of an equally attractive Black Republican with national appeal among African Americans, the majority of whom are still wedded to long-held notions of a racist GOP.
Gallup polling shows only two percent of Republicans are registered African Americans, compared to nearly a quarter of Democrats.
That’s not stopping Black Republicans from making noise on the electoral front in several spotlighted races. In Utah, firebrand Black conservative and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love is re-running her bid for the state’s 4th Congressional district, which is being vacated by retiring Democrat Jim Matheson. She raised more than $1 million in the last two quarters of 2013 according to Federal Election Commission filings and is poised to win the GOP nomination for the seat. Her strong showing against Matheson in 2012 sets her up to easily capture the seat in 2014.
In Oklahoma is an open Senate seat being left by retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. The Republican primary, which will more than likely determine the next U.S. Senator from the Sooner State, is already showcasing powerful Black Republican brand names as possible contenders with former Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., being pushed as a potential candidate and his former aide now state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Okla., already announcing intentions to run.
Watts, well-known and respected nationally, has made no public commitments to run. However, in a recent Harper Poll, Watts showed 61 percent favorability among Republican primary voters and maintained a three percent lead over current favorite Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla. Shannon only manages 18 percent favorably at the moment against Lankford at 54 percent — but his high favorably in the Tulsa media market — where he resides — plus any sudden electoral shifts in a state that is eight percent Black could work to his favor — if Watts doesn’t run and decides to put his vast network of resources behind the young, telegenic speaker.
Should Love win in Utah and Shannon win in Oklahoma, 2014 could mark a very peculiar growth spurt for Black Republicans. But, in the grander scheme of things, does that really mean anything?
“There will likely be more Black Republicans in Congress [this] year, and those that make it in will do so because the fundamentals are in their favor,” said Emory University’s Andra Gillespie. “Now, what does this mean long term?”
Love’s resurgence in Utah’s 4th district might not mean anything in terms of real Black political power in Congress, despite her public plans to join and disrupt the Congressional Black Caucus when she’s elected. The district’s population is a fraction of a percentage point Black.
And the addition of a Shannon or Watts to the U.S. Senate might mean two Black Republicans — including Sen. Tim Scott — in the Senate compared to only one Black Democrat Cory Booker, D-N.J. Many Black political observers doubt that translates into anything positive or tangible for the overall Black electorate if they’re being primarily elected by — and having to answer to — white voters.
“I think a Black partisan realignment is still a long ways off,” said Gillespie. “But the success of these Black Republicans in Republican jurisdictions does present a path to elective office in places where Democrats — regardless of their color — have a hard time getting elected. If Black Republican candidates can clear the field in overwhelmingly Republican districts, they will likely win. The key is putting oneself in position to actually clear a political field,” Gillespie said.
There are other races in key states, however, that may not work as well for Black Republicans. A vacant State School Superintendent seat in Georgia has triggered a crowded Republican primary field with two Black Republicans in the mix — including community activist Fitz Johnson and former Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell.
And while former Miss America Erika Harold, a young and attractive Black Republican lawyer vying for a heavily GOP Congressional seat, might have name recognition from her beauty pageant days, she’s barely managed to make a dent in the polls and fundraise against incumbent freshman Rep. Rodney Davis. So far, Harold has managed to raise only $90,000, a drop in the bucket compared to the average $3 million to $5 million needed to win a Congressional seat.
Still, the primary in Illinois’ 13th Congressional district could be divisive enough to help Harold squeeze out a victory.
“I believe that, since 2008, there has clearly been a surge of visible Black Republicans in all aspects of politics: political punditry, grassroots activism, party involvement, and running for elected offices,” said Lenny McAllister, a former Congressional candidate and a host on Pittsburgh Cable News Channel. “Over the past five plus years, we have had an African American chair of the RNC, no less than six vice-chairs of statewide GOP organizations, and an array of Black Republican activists and candidates. There is steady headway that is being made that, perhaps over time, will finally overtake the chasm that existed between Blacks and Republicans for decades.”
Ironically, Black Republicans have appeared on a public rise since the election of Barack Obama. And Gillespie said we’ve seen this episode before.
“Now, keep in mind that the RNC thought that 2006 was a banner year, too - and then no one got elected,” said Gillespie, referencing failed bids by Michael Steele for a Maryland Senate seat and Lynn Swann for a Pennsylvania gubernatorial seat. “But this year is more promising. Some of the people mentioned are in really good strategic position to win.”
At the time, it was like the Supreme Court had detonated a roadside bomb on the civil rights movement. In what many long time legal and political observers had described as tragic, the high court ripped Section 4 out of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), leaving the pillar civil rights law limping into ineffectiveness. All fingers pointed at the happily obliging crew of conservative justices who didn’t much like the act in the first place.
For the right, it was a moment worth its weight in political glory.
For many on the left, including a bevy of beleaguered and elderly civil rights organizations, it was nearing the end of the world.
Since then, however, the plight of the VRA is beginning to regain steam as a mobilizing issue among Democrats seeking to pull Black voters to the polls for November’s critical midterm elections. Republicans, not wanting a re-run of angry Black voters rushing to the polls in reaction to voter suppression efforts, seem willing to talk about a compromise solution.
While the VRA may have been gutted, it still survives — albeit barely in the minds of some. But that fact alone is giving newfound energy to a partnership of committed advocates and progressive politicos seeking to squeeze some political juice from the VRA.
That collaboration converged into a refresh on the VRA as Congressional lawmakers recently made a push for the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014. With the Supreme Court bouncing the VRA back to Congress for a legislative fix, a bipartisan band of officials are hoping they can somehow reconstitute the law back into its original form.
In its ruling, the high court was convinced that the existing Voting Rights Act was archaic. Shelby County, Ala. — the petitioner in this case — somehow convinced justices that the federal government’s pre-clearance laws were burdensome to the jurisdiction’s budget.
How the formula had gone for so long was that blocks of mostly southern states (as well as several in the East, Midwest and West) with long and rather obvious histories of Black voter suppression would have to check in with the feds anytime they changed election laws.
The Supreme Court in its conservative-leaning wisdom, however, believed that the formula for reaching that conclusion was a bit outdated. How could you judge a state’s pattern of discrimination with stats dating back to the 1970s?
A year later, VRA supporters — mostly Democrats — are striking back with what appears to be a three-pronged attack. Not too long after the court’s decision, Attorney General Eric Holder wasted no time in urging continued special review of Texas’ shaky voting processes. And, suddenly, the VRA got a moment in State of the Union sun, resurrected into mainstream consciousness as President Obama gave it a paragraph’s worth of a plug, pushing a bipartisan commission chaired by his 2012 re-election campaign lawyer Bob Bauer and his Mitt Romney campaign counterpart Ben Ginsburg.
“Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote,” said the president to applause from members of Congress. “Let’s support these efforts. It should be the power of our vote — not the size of our bank account — that drives our democracy.”
That was the follow-up to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommendations released the week before, which looked to resolve ongoing issues with long polling lines, lack of early voting and controversies over voter registration.
On Capitol Hill, an unusual and somewhat motley crew of lawmakers, including Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., John Conyers, D-Mich., and Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., proposed the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The legislation hopes to revive the pre-clearance provisions struck down by narrowing the number of states typically pegged for review.
Now, it’s down to four: Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, all states with checkered voting pasts — and places housing some of the largest Black populations in the country.
That effort has encouraged advocacy groups hoping to preserve the VRA while they still can.
“We were all distraught by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby case last year, and we took seriously the direction for Congress to provide a fix that protects today’s voters,” said Chanelle P. Hardy, Senior Vice President of Policy for the National Urban League and Executive Director of its Washington office. “Recognizing the political gridlock that has stymied Congressional action in recent years and the urgency the address this issue, we are encouraged by the bipartisan support the bill has received and we look forward to working with Congress. “
Also setting a positive tone was Marcia Blanco-Johnson, Director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law which has both followed and litigated on the issue extensively. “Voting Rights Act legislation has always been bipartisan,” argued Blanco-Johnson when asked about skeptics who charge that maybe the Voting Rights Amendment Act won’t pack as much regulatory punch with fewer states on the pre-clearance list.
“The Voting Rights Amendment Act defies present day conventional wisdom that Congress cannot or would not act in a bipartisan fashion,” Blanco-Johnson said. “The Supreme Court acknowledged that voting discrimination still exists and the VRAA provides a comprehensive approach to address that discrimination. Is it perfect? No. But it addresses voting discrimination across the country and allows courts to stop discriminatory voting changes. The VRAA is a starting point, and we must now all work with Congress to make it better.”
The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro, an outright critic of the refreshed VRAA, doesn’t waste time to point out that “the fact that there are no GOP co-sponsors in the Senate is telling” despite support from key Republican leaders in the House like Sensenbrenner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“My basic position is that this particular legislation is both unnecessary and harmful,” charges Shapiro. “Not sure whether it’ll get any traction in Congress. The VRA is absolutely good and useful — Sections 2 and 3 exist to stamp out racial discrimination in voting — but Section 5 [even based on a new coverage formula] lacks constitutional justification because there’s no evidence that Section 2 or 3 and other federal laws are inadequate.”
“Without such evidence, Section 5 doesn’t qualify as ‘appropriate legislation’ under the 15th Amendment.”
Hans von Spakovsky, a perennial critic of VRA advocacy and Heritage Foundation expert, pushes an equally dismissive view of the new legislative effort.
“I don’t think this bill is a compromise between Democrats and Republicans — it is pretty much the wish list of civil rights organizations with the possible very weak exception for voter ID,” Spakovsky said.
If some critics are saying the bill dilutes the VRA with its shortened list of pre-clearance states, why worry that it’s being proposed? “This bill doesn’t dilute the VRA,” answers Spakovsky, “It makes Section 5 even more overbearing. It also does things like change the legal standard for injunctive relief in VRA cases to one that overwhelmingly favors plaintiffs, so that organizations like the NAACP are virtually guaranteed to get an injunction.”
George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton sees it differently, countering that “while the new bill would require that fewer states pre-clear changes, the new bill expands nationwide some of the functions served by preclearance.”
“For example, before the court’s decision, preclearance deterred discrimination in covered states because bad actors knew their voting changes would be reviewed,” notes Overton in an enthusiastic analysis of the VRAA’s chances. “The new bill attempts to deter bad activity by requiring that states and localities nationwide provide public notice of particular election changes.”