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Mark Trahant: Supreme Court sends message on voting rights

Filed Under: Opinion | Politics
More on: discrimination, mark trahant, race, supreme court, voting rights

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week on voting rights sends a simple and clear message: And now you do what they told ya.

The court basically said that modern states wouldn’t use their power to keep minorities -- including American Indians and Alaska Natives -- from voting. “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 5-to-4 majority.

And now you do what they told ya.

So in North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, Montana, and Alaska, and in many other states where access to voting is limited, where polling booths are located far from reservation communities, or where “early voting” hours are made purposely unequal or unfair, well, the court said, in Shelby County (the Alabama county that sued to end the Voting Rights Act) “voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity.”

And now you do what they told ya.

But of course that parity is not found in Indian Country. The last election was a success, however, American Indians and Alaska Natives still have the lowest registration rates of any racial or ethnic group. A study by Demos a couple of years ago pegged that number at 5 to 14 percent lower than the general population. I suspect the numbers are not much better two years later because Indian Country is growing so fast; nearly 200,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives are eligible to vote since the last election.

And now you do what they told ya.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, says the court’s majority is wrong because “the ‘blight of racial discrimination in voting’ continued to ‘infec[t] the electoral process in parts of our country.’ Early attempts to cope with this vile infection resembled battling the Hydra. Whenever one form of voting discrimination was identified and prohibited, others sprang up in its place.”

And now you do what they told ya.

A case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is the practical 21st century application of these voting rights issues. Montana law provides for early voting and late registration. However “tribal members live a great distance from the late registration and in-person absentee voting places in county seats,” according to appellants’ brief. And the counties have largely said no, even when the cost has been covered or the administrative burden reduced. “Counties take the position that there is no violation of the Voting Rights Act, no harm, and that they have no authority or obligation to ever open any satellite offices.”

And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control.

The Supreme Court has said this is a new country, one that’s no longer divided by voting tests or low registration, “yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.” So Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was struck down and immediately states set out to prove that the Court was in error by enacting sweeping provisions that limit voter participation. Only two hours after the court’s ruling Texas announced the state’s voter ID law would take effect and new restrictive districts would begin. Not long after Mississippi and South Carolina joined the chorus. States with large American Indian or Alaska Native populations will not be far behind.

But there is a weakness in the court’s ruling: The more that those in power try to use cheap tricks -- voter ID laws or limited ballot access -- the more people who will demand to vote. The court has basically set out the challenge: The only way to strip those from power who would limit your right to vote, is to vote. The only way to end austerity is to win the election. The only way to invest in a better future for young people is to show up in record numbers. Vote because “they” say you can’t.

Or as Rage Against the Machine once shouted: F%$# YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

More from Mark Trahant:
Mark Trahant: United States on voluntary walk into deflation (06/24)

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