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Tuesday, June 27, 20061151461800

Let the Voting Rights Act Expire

"Bigotry Beneath the Fog," by Eugune Robinson, Washington Post, 23 June 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/22/AR2006062201466.html (from MyDD).

My old nemesis, the Voting Rights Act, took a powerful blow because of wily House Speaker Dennis Hastert

Speaker Dennis Hastert was ready to move forward with a feel-good, election-year extension of the landmark 1965 act that guaranteed voting rights for African Americans disenfranchised by Jim Crow law and custom in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia. In 1975 the act was expanded to cover Alaska, Texas and Arizona, where citizens with limited command of English -- Latinos, mostly -- were being treated as if they were black folks in the South.

Hastert understood that reauthorizing the act would be useful in efforts to convince voters that the Republican Party as presently constituted is just ultraconservative, not actually racist. But Hastert was sandbagged by fellow Republicans who rebelled in a private caucus meeting Wednesday. The renewal probably could have won easy approval on the House floor, since Democrats would have voted for it, but Hastert's policy is to not bring out any bill that lacks majority support from Republicans, so he had no choice but to yank it.


This is great news.


I've written before on the unAmerican nature of the Voting Rights Act, so I won't belabor those point now. Suffice it to say that the VRA attacks both democracy and the complex adaptive system we call the United States.

What's interesting to me is the line that it is Hastert's policy is to not bring out any bill that lacks majority support from Republicans.. If this is true, it means that the same philosopher which makes the Speaker stall on immigration reform also makes him stall on renewing the VRA (hopefully leading, of course, to the VRA's expiration in 2007).

Given the choice between pushing immigration reform package against the Republicans in the House, or stopping the VRA with the Republicans in the House, I choose stopping the VRA. America's greatness lies, partly, in her rule-set, her protection of the fifty united States as they try this and that, evolving their way to fitness. We need workers, but ultimately the ratio of capital and labor is a quantitative benefit to the United States, while the nationalist straitjacket of the VRA is a qualitative loss.

So quality over quantity, and sinking the VRA over reforming immigration this year, if it comes to that.

Thank you Dennis Hastert. You made the right call.

Comments

"I choose stopping the VRA. America's greatness lies, partly, in her rule-set, her protection of the fifty united States as they try this and that, evolving their way to fitness."

How's so?

Posted by: Jeffrey Jame | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Jeffrey,

An excellent question! It gets right to the important part.

Imagine a scientist trying to create a better type of corn. He knows the general properties of his goal -- provide more nutrition and more vitamins more efficiently -- but does not know exactly how to get there. So he attempts a Darwinian method, growing many types of corn and selecting for the best corn stock.

Corn that is more fit for this environment thrives, corn that is less fit doesn't. Over time this Darwinian evolution leads to greater and greater yields.

However, imagine that one type of corn evolves a mutation -- it secretes a poison that kills the other stock. This "short circuits" the darwinian method from the mutation.

Local decision making is similar. Nearly everywhere, nearly everywhere, nearly all the time wants to be economically well of without things changing too much. Different communities -- different states and countries -- come up with different manners for doing this. Some (like the US's system of free trade) are so wildly successful that their traits are copied by other states. Others (like the USSR's system of command-and-control) are so disastrous that they are abandoned.

One reason that America has been successful is that it guarantees protection from government interference (think especially of the Bill of Rights) while allowing her 50 member States to experiment this way and that. South Dakota bans abortion, Massachusetts adopts homosexual marriages. California pushes health care, while Mississippi keeps taxes low. These different sets of laws and customs -- these different rule-sets -- are different attempts to create happy states.

Those that are successful will lead to economic growth, population growth (more people move in than move out), and replication elsewhere. Those that are unsuccessful will be abandoned. In this way we are like the scientist -- we create a laboratory with basic rules and we enjoy all the best decisions that our lab -- our complex, dynamic system -- comes up with on its own.

The rulings of Earl Warren and the laws like the VRA are like the new breeds of corn that secrete poisons. They are attempts to short-circuit the lab by killing off competitors. What, for instance, is the appropriate standard of comprehension to be allowed to vote. The ability to sit in a catatonic state while someone else fills out a voting card for you? The ability to get to a voting location? The ability to speak the majority language at the location? The ability to know common laws, or something else? These are all different rulesets -- different DNA -- for different lines in our laboratory.

The VRA and similar acts say "X is the best way. Period. Don't experiment with anything else. Don't try to evolve."

A scientist knows that someone who says "X is right . You can't try theory Y" is anti-science. If a creationist, or a feminist, or a Marxist tries to ban research into evolution psychology, they do so because they are opposed to the scientific method of experimentation, even if they have some other excuse on their mind. In the same way, supporters of VRA who say "X is right. States can't try theory Y" are dong the same thing with laws.

The Constitution provides certain safeguards against experiments we decide are morally bad. No state can legalize slavery, or become a dictatorship, or ban trade with other states, or conduct a rogue foreign policy, etc. Fine. But we should be extremely, extremely careful about adding new restrictions. The VRA is such an extraneous restriction.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You're right in principle but wrong in practice. The VRA addressed a problem of racist states suppressing the vote. And according to the voting travesties in Ohio and Florida, we haven't evolved past that. The VRA should be renewed and updated. The Jim Crow laws are no longer exclusive to the Deep South.

Posted by: aaron | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Aaron,

"The VRA should be renewed and updated. "

So you agree that the VRA as it stands is an anachronism? If so, how so?

I would like to find our areas of agreement...

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The parts preventing an electoral process from being changed without government (DOJ or DC Courts) pre-approval should stay.

The parts providing for multi-language ballots should be kept.

The parts requiring different standards for select states and counties are probably antiquated. Instead, counties within states should be held to a single state standard, and all state election officials should be responsible to the DOJ for preclearance, and discrepencies and verifiable vote-suppression or disenfranchisement should be punishable with severe penalties.

Provisions against literacy test requirements should be renewed.

--

I guess aside from "latent Republican racism" I can't think of a single reason anyone would want to repeal any of the provisions. I'm pre-emptively imagining your 'addressing the problem of racial vote suppression gives it credence' but those arguments aren't verifiable and keeping the provisions harms no one.

Posted by: aaron | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Aaron,

First:

"all state election officials should be responsible to the DOJ for preclearance ... the provisions harms no one"

Removing the ability of people to democratically set their election laws does not harm the people?

If you say "of course not," then you contradict your argument.

If you say "of course," then would you agree that the DOJ should preclear ALL laws of the states? After all, it would harm no one.

If you say "Election law is more important than other laws," do you agree that election law is more important that criminal law (which can lead states to imprison and execute people)?

If you say "Election law is less important than other laws," what is the point of preclearing only unimportant laws?

"If you say "Election law is as important as other laws," then why arbitrarily preclear election law and not other laws?

Second:

Assuming universal, election-specific preclearing happens, I imagine there will be "no harm" from a Republican DOJ taking its time to preclear changes that would help Democratis, and immediately preclearing changes that would help Republicans. (And vice versa). Would politicians ever do such a thing?

If so, does this concentration of power in the Federal Executive still "harm no one."
If not, what other powers can be safely concentrated to the Federal Executive with no harm?

Third:

"I'm pre-emptively imagining your 'addressing the problem of racial vote suppression gives it credence, but those arguments aren't verifiable and keeping the provisions harms no one.'"

I'm not sure what you are referring to. Are you saying that building coalitions along racial lines does not aggravate racial tensions? If so, how do you explain repeated laboratory reproduction of this effect. If not, what are you saying?

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One:

Unfortunately, closer reconsideration leads me to concede this point. As the DOJ is not elected but appointed, it would put undue power in the hands of the executive. The other recourse is to take it to the DC Courts. I would like the electoral authorities to be held accountable to someone, but who? I agree that one party might use its influence to hinder the voting progress of the minority, but isn't that possible under an "individual states use different methods" as well?

The problem with allowing the states to come to their own decision might lead a rogue state to create unacceptable voting standards that affect national issues. I believe this was the original intent of the law and I believe it did address that issue at the time. Let's suppose the state of Ohio crafts some fiendishly awful system that defies common sense and exit-polling and elects an incompetent tyrant to the Presidency. Sure, it's the democratically-reached point of electoral methodology in that state, but it is flawed.

I woud liken it to a branch of evolutionary development that is harmful to the individual and eventually dies out. But in this case, that development that was harmful to that specific genetic fork (Ohio) but harmless to the species as a whole, ends up being harmful to the species complete ( the entire universe ).

I do not think all laws should be pre-cleared. Indeed, there is a process in place for the challenging by the Fed of bad state laws, or even by citizens of that state challenging state laws on constitutional grounds ( I sadly see this argument degenerating in the distance as I posit that ) but I think election law may be more timely than others. Yes, a state may pass a law that decriminalizes a controlled substance in their state, and many people may be harmed in the interim between legislation and judicial repeal, but not in the scope of electing an official who has the power to initiate nuclear war on behalf of a system that arguably did not elect or did not intend to elect him.

Two:
Addressed by "One"

Three:
I'm imagining our discussions where you say prosecuting hate crime more severely than regular crime somehow encourages it.

Posted by: aaron | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Aaron,

Doesn't concentrating election law int he DC court of appeals face the same danger? I recall liberal outrage at the 5-4 Bush v. Gore decision. If a Republican presidency and a Republican senate appoint Republican judges, I assume the democratic states will not groan under (perceived) partisan politics?

The question

"I agree that one party might use its influence to hinder the voting progress of the minority, but isn't that possible under an "individual states use different methods" as well?"

is answered generally by the fact that we have a federal republic. Spreading power out widely makes it difficult for any faction to rise up and oppress all the rest. Concentrating power into the Executive's hands (or the DC Court's) makes it easier. Perfection can never guaranteed, but the degree of tyranny can be predicted by the concentration of power. Diffusing the power to the 50 States is much safer.

"The problem with allowing the states to come to their own decision might lead a rogue state to create unacceptable voting standards that affect national issues."

Here is the question about "unacceptable." The Constitution mandates that each State shall have a Republican form of government, so if by "unacceptable" you mean "non-democratic" then that is taken care of by the Constitution.

But if by "unacceptable" you just mean "unpopular" -- then that's the point! In some states felons can vote. In other's they can't. Some states require voting registration, but others don't. If South Dakotans don't like the fact that kids raised by homosexual married couples will be voting in Massachusetts -- well though! If Massachusetts doesn't like that South Dakota's population is artificially inflated by lack of abortion -- well tough! Having a federal government -- having a system of government through local experimentation -- means ideas that are popular in one area will be unpopular in another. The Constitution already protects basic rights. The federal government should avoid short-circuiting the system with styles of the moment.

I addressed tyranny earlier in this post.

"there is a process in place for the challenging by the Fed of bad state laws"

There is a process in place for challenging unconstitutional state laws in the Federal courts. This is separate from just laws one dislikes, even laws that might defy the common sense of people in one part of the country. (How "common sense" in South Dakota is it for Oregon to allow assisted suicide, or "common sense" in Oregon for South Dakota to ban abortion?) The Federal courts already provide protection from unconstitutional elections. But by favoring the VRA (and its expansion) you wish to extend this to include unfashionable election laws.

"but not in the scope of electing an official who has the power to initiate nuclear war on behalf of a system that arguably did not elect or did not intend to elect him."

So the VRA should be exclusive to Presidential elections, because no other official is Commander-in-Chief of the military?

Further, the "intent" of the system is the vote of the Electoral College or, failing that, the votes of the Houses of Congress under the Constitution. Or do you mean something else by the system's intent.

On your last point, the ability to make people think in racist or non-racist terms, merely by altering the racial composition of competitive coalitions, has been demonstrated in the laboratory. Yet they are not "verifiable"?

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A quick one-off, the DC courts wasn't my solution, it's the actual in-place alternative.

A second one-off, I'd like a link to the studies in the lab that verify this.

Posted by: aaron | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"I'd like a link to the studies in the lab that verify this."

Here you go:

"Can Race be Erased? Coalitional Computation and Social Categorization"
by Robert Kurzban; John Tooby; Leda Cosmides
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 98, No. 26. (Dec. 18, 2001), pp. 15387-15392.
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0027-8424%2820011218%2998%3A26%3C15387%3ACRBECC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-3

Of course, please criticize the article. I consider interaction like this a bonus of linking my studies with my blog! :-)

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

http://mydd.com/story/2006/7/12/214054/047

Posted by: aaron | Thursday, July 13, 2006

Aaron,

The central thesis of the article you sent reads as follows

"Voting is different than flying, buying cigarettes, and other activities that require photo ID. For example, it makes sense to prevent 1000 legitimate travelers without ID from boarding an airplane to stop one terrorist who could blow up the plane, but it doesn't make sense to prevent 1000 legitimate voters from casting a ballot in the off chance that we'll stop one improper voter."

Since the article is giving numbers, is there any support for these numbers? Or is the author making things up as he goes along.

The author expresses concern that requiring photo identification impedes voters. But don't voting precincts do the same thing? Surely it would be easier for many voters to just vote wherever they happent to be at some time during election day, rather than have pre-assigned locations. Yet why not abolish precincts?

The counter-argument, it seems, would be "That would increase cheating." Which has an obvious refrain: "but so does requiring voter IDs!"

Another argument against would be "Voting precints mean that we can trust local poll workers to prevent cheating." Yet requiring voters to go to a pre-arranged place, but not requiring them to offer proof of their identity, just means that you are concentrating the power to cheat in the local poll workers.

I'm sure that you, Aaron, as a loyal democrat see nothing wrong with entrusting close elections to the good will of local poll workeres, who will try their best to remember if a local partisan is appearing twice.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Thursday, July 13, 2006

PS: Non-democrats may also have reason to be figthened. Organs of the liberal/left movement have praised poll fixing as a heroic activity. The movie "The Gangs of New York," for instance, sympathetically portrays anti-Republican ethnic voters voting again, and again, and again.

Perhaps the American public would have less to fear if not for the liberal/left's hagiography of fixing elections.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Thursday, July 13, 2006

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