Monthly Archives: March 2013

Why We Still Need ALL of the Voting Rights Act

When Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia introduced an amendment on the house floor to block funding for section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in May of 2012, the backlash was instant and immense.[i]  Long the hallmark legislative achievement of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) represents a lasting guarantee against electoral discrimination.  But as voting participation among minorities rises to levels above whites and the blatant discrimination of the 1960s fades into history, many wonder if the VRA still requires the powerful federal enforcement of the act that Section 5 authorizes.[ii]  As the Supreme Court prepares to decide on the matter this year in the Shelby County v. Holder case, the answer is yes: we still need the VRA.

American electoral participation in1965 looked very different than that of the national electorate in 2012, when the country re-elected its first African American President to another four year term.  Southern states in the 1960s implemented creative strategies to deny Black Americans their right to vote, like requiring minority citizens to pass an unfairly difficult “literacy” test before voting. [iii]  Upon its enactment the VRA explicitly outlawed all such prejudiced policies, but Civil Rights activists emphasized that Southern states could easily find new ways to subvert the VRA’s restrictions.  As a protection against such manipulations, Congress added the contentious Section 5 to the legislation, which required federal approval to any and all electoral changes in states and counties shown to blatantly discriminate against minorities during voter registration.[iv]

Section 5’s long-standing history was questioned as recently as 2009, when a case brought before the Supreme Court contested the section’s constitutionality.[v]  Although it does allow major federal intrusion into an area of law traditionally controlled by states, the Supreme Court didn’t comment on the constitutionality of the law but “suggested [in the majority opinion] that the law may not be ‘justified by current needs’.”[vi]  This year, it will come under Supreme Court consideration again, as Shelby County, Alabama challenges Attorney General Eric Holder and his exercise of Section 5 in the small Southern town, where discrimination against minority voters remains a major concern for some activists.[vii]

Shelby County may try to convince the Supreme Court that Section 5 is both draconian and outdated, but Civil Rights history, recent developments and judicial precedent indicates the opposite to be true.  As former civil rights activist and Alabama resident Jerome Gray points out, “the franchise remains fragile” in many areas of the deep south, where, based upon  electoral policies designed to disenfranchise minority voters, Mr. Gray and others are still removed from voting rolls in places like his hometown of Evergreen, Alabama.[viii]  Fortunately, Section 5’s protections allowed the federal court in Mobile, Alabama to intervene and strike down Evergreen’s new voting laws, which the court deemed to be unfair.[ix]  As a result, Mr. Gray and 799 others that the County removed from voting registers could vote in the most recent Evergreen election.  Stories like these show that the work that Section 5 authorizes the federal government to pursue is far from done, and 1972 voting registration statistics remain indicative of persisting discrimination.[x]

Cases like that of Evergreen, Alabama demonstrate the on-going need for federally mandated election reform.  Therefore, Section 5 should stay on the books.  The most recent reauthorization, which occurred under President Bush in 2006, extends the VRA for twenty five years.[xi]  This version of the VRA requires counties with a minority voter registration of under 50% as of 1972 to continue pre-clearing electoral changes with the US Justice Department or Federal Courts.[xii]  If states feel they have eliminated all electoral discrimination, they can apply to be removed from the pre-clearance list, pending Justice Department approval.[xiii]  Some areas, including many counties in Virginia, successfully petitioned for removal from the list.[xiv]  Despite complaints that the law is outdated, policymakers claim Section 5 continues to allow the Justice Department to stop a number of unfair electoral laws, including a recent Alabama law that would have re-districted the county in order to diminish the efficacy of black voters.[xv]

In 1965, Congress intended Section 5 of the VRA to serve as a temporary provision that would institutionalize voting equality, but rooting out discrimination has proven to be a 50-year process that is far from over.  The federal government’s fundamental responsibility is to ensure every citizen’s rights under the 15th amendment, particularly when the state fails to do so.[xvi]  Select counties and states across America continue to fail in protecting the rights of their citizens, including community pillars like Mr. Gray in Alabama.  The entirety of the Voting Rights Act must remain intact, and the US government must be empowered to enforce it, until people like Jerome Gray, who epitomize the struggle for freedom, don’t need to double check their registrant status every election year.

– Post by Kathryn Babineau, MPP ’13


[i] “The struggle to vote.” New York Times 12 May 2012: A18(L). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[ii]“The preclearance problem; Race and elections.” The Economist [US] 5 Feb. 2011: 45(US). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[iii]  “Sacred, or outdated; The Voting Rights Act.” The Economist [US] 27 June 2009: 57EU. U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[iv] “The preclearance problem; Race and elections.” The Economist [US] 5 Feb. 2011: 45(US). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[v] Dade, Corey.  See Previous Citation.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Liptak, Adam.  See Previous Citation.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Dade, Corey. “Is the Voting Rights Act Outdated?” National Public Radio. National Public Radio, 01 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ludden, Jennifer.  “Is the Voting Rights Act Relevant in 2013?” National Public Radio 25 February 2013.  Web, 13 March 13, 2013.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] “The preclearance problem; Race and elections.” The Economist [US] 5 Feb. 2011: 45(US). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

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Bingo!

Several Batten MPP students volunteered to play Bingo with residents at The Cedars Golden Living Center on Friday afternoon of March 22nd. We brought t-shirts to give out as prizes to the winners of Bingo games, which were a huge hit when we volunteered there during Batten Builds in the fall. The residents of the assisted living center were really excited when they saw the prizes we brought with us!

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As the Batten students spread out and sat at different tables, everyone listened eagerly to the numbers skillfully called out by Solomon and Kaitlin. The rest of the Batten crew, Kaycie, Patrick, Gina, Matt W., Kelly D., and Katy, listened carefully and helped out the skillful Bingo-players at their tables when needed. The residents thanked us for coming to play with them, but I think that we got the better end of the deal, getting to play Bingo with such wonderful people!

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– Post by Katy Lai, MPP’13

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Why Democrats Should Like the “Growth & Opportunity Project” Report

There seems to be a common misconception in America’s political discourse that partyImage politics are a zero-sum game. Pundits and party members tend to preach that aligning yourself with one political party means you must oppose the other, at all times, at any cost. Fundraising e-mails and negative campaign ads convince us that Our Party’s success is measured by Their Party’s defeat. In Virginia, the land of off-year elections and the never-ending campaign cycle, these tactics are virtually inescapable. Following that logic, the Growth & Opportunity Project report published by Reince Priebus’ task force today—which identifies seven areas in which the GOP can make changes to “grow the Party and improve Republican campaigns” (GOP Report p. 1)—represents a huge threat to the Democratic Party. This logic is troubling, given that the GOP report recommends reasonable, mainstream policy positions largely in line with established Democratic policy positions.

The authors, a forward-looking group of five party operatives, make some surprisingly subversive recommendations, including “comprehensive immigration reform” (p. 76) and changes to the current campaign finance model—”an illogical system where candidates and their parties no longer have the loudest voices in campaigns or even the ability to determine the issues debated” (p. 64). If the GOP were to actually implement these recommendations, Democrats would very likely lose what has so far been an unqualified stranglehold on some key constituencies—for example, Hispanics, African-Americans, and women.

As far as I can tell, the immediate response among Democrats was to dismiss the 100-page report (on Twitter, the #GOPAutopsy) as a codification of party shortcomings. This rhetoric reduces the report to another throw-away piece of extremist, partisan ideology. Democrats who subscribe to these ideas will pick through it for examples of Republican failures, ignoring the suggestions it makes for improvements and advancement. Once this narrative gets going, what choice will Republicans have? They will be under attack, and they must go on defense, doubling down on the very policies that their colleagues have said are most harmful to the party.

This knee-jerk reaction is ill-suited to achieving actual improvements for which both parties should be fighting. For example, the report suggests that the GOP should make an effort to “include female voters and promote women to leadership ranks within the committee” (p. 19). Is the Democratic base really so fragile, their voters so disloyal, that party leaders feel a need to fight back against suggestions such as this? I hope not. Instead of using the report as evidence of a problem, let us recognize it for what it is: part of a solution. Women taking on leadership positions within the Republican Party is not a threat to Democrats. It is an overdue advancement for women that will make the United States a better place to live and work. It is also, incidentally, a plank in the Democratic National Platform: “We are committed to ensuring full equality for women.”

The GOP report’s greatest gift to Democrats is that it gives them an opportunity to stop competing over the questions that have easy answers. If we can all agree that “Programs … to recruit minority candidates … should be encouraged” (p. 33), then we can compete instead over answers to actual policy problems. And, after all, the Republicans point out that “competition can inspire innovation and development of the best ideas” (p. 31).

Is the report perfect? Of course not. But before we point out where it went wrong, let’s take a moment to applaud authors Henry Barbour, Sally Bradshaw, Art Fleischer, Zori Fonalledas, and Glenn McCall for what they did right.

-Post by Doc McConnell, MPP ’13

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Batten in Ireland!

Keep up with our fellow Batten students and Paul Martin who are currently studying Conflict Resolution in Ireland and Northern Ireland by reading the Batten Ireland Blog!

Their workshops include looking at the historical origins of the Irish troubles, the Good Friday Agreement, political structures, and more. 

In addition to their studies, they are also seeing amazing sights, with visits to Trinity College, Dublin Castle, and the Guinness Brewery!

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The Peeple’s Movement

As part of the Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest, second year MPP students Kathryn Babineau, Solomon Banjo, Kaitlin Brennan, Aaron Chafetz, Katy Lai, Michael Mathias, and Doc McConnell submitted this entry titled “The Peeples Movement,” depicting last summer’s rallies on the Lawn following the ouster of President Teresa Sullivan.

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“In the summer of 2012, the University of Virginia’s students, faculty, and staff gathered on the grounds’ historic lawn to protest the removal of President Teresa Sullivan from office. The protest, which focused its attentions on the under-handed removal process spearheaded by the University’s Rector, Helen Dragas, was ultimately successful in restoring Sullivan as President and head of the University. In our peeps version of this moment in UVA history, the two leaders are pictured standing on the rotunda steps, where both gave statements during the summer protests, as students and faculty stand in support of President Sullivan. The people’s president, as some now refer to President Sullivan around UVA grounds, has become the peeple’s president here. Wahoowa!”

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Batten Council Elections

The University Board of Elections announced the winners of the election yesterday afternoon. Batten had the highest voter turn out of any other school at the University with 73 percent. Thanks to everyone who ran and voted!
Here is your 2013-14 Batten Council:
President – Alex Dumitriu
Secretary – Carmen Diaz
Treasurer – Luke Handley
Special Events Chair – Natasha Reese
Community Engagement Chair – Elena Weissmann
UJC Rep – Shivshankar Srikanth
Honor Reps – Madison Busch and Ryan Singel
StudCo – Sheridan Fuller

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