Blood, Sweat & Fears: The Voting Rights Act and the Redistricting in Texas

By Linda Vega

The 1960s was a volatile decade. The U.S. experienced changes that pushed the country into the forefront of international recognition for being a Superpower that eyed down a war that almost was. On the domestic front, the population was changing with voices of citizens eagerly wanting to be counted in the voting polls. In the South, this change also brought resistance that caused rioting and violence, and that was all too familiar of previous struggles that our nation had experienced during the Civil War. In Selma, Alabama, the riots and deaths of many were beginning to divide the country into that of color: blacks and whites. The desire to be heard as a voting citizen, also caused many to lose their lives in violent acts as the nation grew further apart at the voting polls in its struggle to include all those now eligible to vote. What we learned was that these past experiences should not be part of our conservative values and democratic principles of Representative Democracy. More importantly, redistricting should never be used as a form of voter suppression for citizens in districts where a “single-majority minority” district can be created to reflect the demographic changes happening in Texas and the nation.

Voter suppression and discrimination was the norm is some areas of the South in 1960; as a result, legislation was formed to enable the rights of citizens to be counted as voters, regardless of color. It became evident that this flood of change was unstoppable. At that time, The Johnson Administration called for a strong voting law that would allow the integration of voters into the voting polls. According to the administration, the 15th Amendment was not strong enough to end possible discrimination caused by the States on the constituent’s voting rights. Thus, The Johnson Administration sought a measure whereby Black Americans could be given the same amount of protection as whites when voting. Hence, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created and enacted. The law was meant to even out the opportunity to vote. However, what it did was it drove away votes from the Republican Party as the Federal government became the so called “Protector of Voters” for millions of Black Americans, and eventually other groups, in the South. In reality, the law was misapplied and gave the impression that states were incapable of being fair when representing their constituents. It made the states (not just southern, Illinois also sought to protect minority pockets of voters) appear to give preference to the groups who were less in number, the advantage of being counted. And so the southern states were seen as being unfair to constituents.

Section 2 of the Act declares that states cannot impose literacy requirements for those voters who cannot read or write, as many of the Black Americans in the 1960s could not read or write. Moreover, areas in the U.S. that were more prone to discrimination were targeted by this act, namely southern states. When the law was first challenged in 1986, the Supreme Court in Thornburg v. Gingles, established a three-part test to single-member districts should they be created. First, the minority group should be sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district. Second, the minority group should vote as a cohesive bloc. Finally, the majority group cannot vote so as to defeat the minority group’s preferred candidate. {NOTE: Minority is in number not race} This interpretation, by the Supreme Court of the Voting Rights Act should have given the idea to Republicans in Texas how crucial it was to keep Hispanics in single-member-minority district since Hispanics are a social conservative bloc.

Furthermore, Section 5 of the Act delineates the U.S. Attorney General or the Department of Justice or a U.S. District Court to determine if any change would be discriminatory in purpose or effect. A change is when redistricting lines or rules are proposed to determine voting eligibility. If a change may appear to be controversial, Federal Examiners and Federal Pollsters could monitor so as to ensure that the “changes” were fair under the law. In the 1970’s as the U.S. population was gaining ground with Latinos, Asians, and other groups, this section was extended to apply throughout the United States, namely in the Southwestern area of the United States.

The Voting Rights Act is important as it is affecting the redistricting in Texas because of the changing population. An average population in the U.S. House District is 710,767. With the ever growing population in Texas, the Latino demographic is expected to surpass and be the majority in 2016. Thus, redistricting is important to those who want to maintain the laws and control of the majority in power. In politics this is not going against the grain, as both the Democrats and Republicans have spent a considerable amount of money to cover the computerized map studies and potential legal challenges. However, both parties are overlooking the obvious: the color of the population cannot be controlled but the mindset of the voters can. For example, fifty years ago, there was never a thought that the 1965 Voting Rights Act could one day be protecting the voting rights of Latinos in Texas. After all, no one could have predicted that Latinos would be prone to vote Democrat at that time. With Latino’s conservative values similar to those of the Republican party, no one would have considered that redistricting would attempt to exclude Latinos from the voting polls because they “might” vote Democrat.

The reality is that the population in Texas is shifting to include more Latinos. The current redistricting is creating the perception that the changing population cannot vote for the Republican candidates as reported by the news media and the legislation in Texas. Yet, there is nothing to fear among the Republicans, unless they lack the faith to believe that Latinos are not Republican. Foxnews.com states that the redistricting will give Democrats a greater chance at winning, yet that is not true. Fox news is losing ground for Republicans who wish to include more Latinos in the party. Latinos continue to vote for those candidates who speak to them and their values. The votes in the community will go toward those candidates who speak to them of what is important to them, namely the love of family, country, and freedom. If those wanting to maintain their control and position in the Congress were in sync with their constituents, they would offer a gathering among the Latino Community and speak to them directly rather than shift the lines of districts. Latinos are Republicans and they know it.

When a law like The Voting Rights Act is applied to protect the rights of those eligible to vote, we have to think of why the Federal Government believes that our states cannot adhere to fairness. What gives the federal government the right to say that State Legislatures are incapable of being fair to their constituents? This law echoes what candidates and political parties already know: represent with fairness and allow constituents the proper right to VOTE. The 1960’s saw blood shed to protect this right and as the U.S. has grown to include more people, these new constituents must be represented fairly and adequately. So rather than resist because of the fear that this population will vote against a political party’s candidates, perhaps we should gather those many in body and one in mind and remind them, “We are conservative like you, and we are on your side.”

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