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Old voting law's merits debated
Is 1965 Voting Rights Act still necessary?

Friday, March 1, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, but two local government attorneys say the act is not unduly burdensome in Henry County and Martitnsville.

The legislation, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, is designed to protect minorities that have been subjected to discrimination by being denied the right to vote.

According to, the act “contained special enforcement provisions targeted at those areas of the country where Congress believed the potential for discrimination to be the greatest,” namely states in the South, such as Virginia.

Based on the legislation, southern states named in the act cannot make changes to their voting regulations (such as changing voting precinct polling locations) until the federal government has approved the regulations and decided they are not discriminatory.

The act has been challenged by Shelby County, Ala., and was debated before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The question is whether the act still is needed nearly 50 years after its creation.

According to Martinsville city attorney Eric Monday and Henry County attorney George Lyle, the act hasn’t created any major difficulties for the city or county.

“It hasn’t been much of a burden at all,” Lyle said. “It just requires more advanced planning. As far as I can recall, every time we’ve made a change, (the federal government) has approved it.”

Monday agreed, saying that “the pre-clearance stuff we go through here is not that burdensome. We just have to give some time for the (federal government) to review it.”

Both also agreed that the changes to voting procedures that have been made in the area in the past have been routine. They mainly have involved moving a precinct’s voting location to a different building to better accommodate voters.

As long as a extra time is allowed for the government to review and approve the change, there’s no problem, both said.

Monday said the closest the city has come to having an issue “was when we switched the polling place over to the museum for the southside polling. We made that change way in advance of the election, and we were getting a little antsy because the election was approaching.” That occurred in 2009.

Monday said the issue quickly was resolved after a call to a local congressman.

“Clearly, the states of the South have a history of racial discrimination that’s different from the rest of the country,” Monday said. As far as whether the 1965 act still is necessary, he said that “50 years is a long time, but we also had a history of slavery in this country for over 100 years. I certainly hope there comes a time when these states aren’t viewed differently (from the rest of the nation).”

Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville/Henry County NAACP and Voter’s League, believes that the act still is necessary.

“If you think that the racism of the past is dead, it’s not,” Hodge-Muse said. “The past is still with us. As we venture into the future, we have to realize that the past is still here.

“As much as I would like to believe that we live in a colorblind society, we don’t. It’s just not true,” she added.


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