Editor's note: On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that may determine the constitutionality of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. At issue is local control of voting laws and racial discrimination in elections. In short, many locations (and some entire states) must seek approval from the Justice Department before implementing election-related changes. Shelby County, Ala., which sits just southeast of Birmingham, is one, and it has sued to strike down Section 5. To familiarize yourself with the case, read this SCOTUS blog primer.
Yahoo News asked residents of Shelby County to offer local color and weigh in with their perspectives on the case. Here's one.
FIRST PERSON | Nobody likes to be stereotyped.
I love the South and my state. Both have a rich but sometimes tarnished past and, without a doubt, some of the tarnish is related to voting rights.
In the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the federal government passed laws to attempt to stop voting rights injustice and to prevent it from recurring. It was a blanket law that applied to several states and was, if you will, a no-brainer.
Almost 50 years later, the Voting Rights Act is still a no-brainer, but Section 5 is a part of it that is no longer applicable, and impedes the finances and resources of local governments. That is what's being challenged by Shelby County, and will be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States on Wednesday.
Under the act, Shelby County (like every other place covered under the preclearance requirement) has to submit all manner of changes to the Justice Department for approval.
Things like different polling locations, new elections, annexations and changes in voting lines must be submitted.
Shelby County Commission Chairwoman Lindsey Allison, according to AL.com, calls it an "unfunded mandate on local governments." Many agree. Not only are the requirements time-consuming, they are costly.
Shelby County wasn't even the organization that started the lawsuit. "A nonprofit entity came to us and just basically said you are a perfect plaintiff because you do it right, " Allison told the website.
Is there significant proof that there are no problems in Shelby County? Well, yes, several actually, outlined by AL.com: A recent victory for a black candidate on the Shelby County Board of Education; a black member of a city council elected in a 90 percent white city over a white popular former member; and, in Harpersville, a black mayor elected to a second term "over a popular white opponent" in a town that is 78 percent white.
We live in a new kind of South, a place where African-Americans can become the president of the student body of the University of Mississippi, and where a black man can be elected as the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. On an even more personal level: I have great neighbors (husband white, wife black) who met at Ole Miss years ago.
The County Commissioner of Shelby County told AL.com: "Number one, we support the Voting Rights Act 100 percent. People should and will continue to have that protection for the right to vote. To me, it's not about that; it's the burden, the huge financial burden and current burden that it puts on not just Shelby County but the 12,000-plus political subdivisions. And those current burdens are based on data collected seven years before I was born. That's my biggest contention."
That's mine, too.
I cannot speak for every municipality that falls under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but I can speak for mine: It is time to rescind Section 5.
Some people who read this will disagree and cite reasons that Section 5 should remain. They will perhaps even give examples that they think that defend Section 5.
There will always be situations in politics and elections when things are not handled correctly. But it makes absolutely zero sense that the government would completely micromanage these aspects of the process while ignoring bigger elephants in the room.
But, that's how they roll, it seems.
I'm quite weary of reading articles (and comments) in which Americans bash the South for racism when anyone who has ever lived in other parts of the country will tell you that racism is often worse there. Racism is a stigma that the South can't seem to shake and that most of the rest of the country seems to want to perpetuate.
Nobody likes to be stereotyped.
For the record, my votes were split in the past two presidential elections: In 2008, I voted for one of the two major party's candidate, and in 2012 I voted for the other.
Reggie Giles is a professional software developer in his early 40s. He lives in Pelham, in Shelby County, Ala.
- Politics & Government
- Voting Rights Act