Texas Public Radio continues its signature KSTX Town Hall series with a community conversation that examines the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its relevancy in today’s dramatic political climate.
Watch the archived video of our Town Hall at NowCastSa.com.
The Voting Rights Act
The landmark legislation, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, outlaws discriminatory voting practices that were at the root of widespread disenfranchisement of minority voters. Section 5 of the VRA requires states with a history of discrimination, including Texas, to seek federal preclearance prior to implementing voting changes, such as redrawing congressional districts or enacting new election law.
Civil rights advocates credit the VRA for diversifying the electorate, as well as legislative bodies at all levels of American government. However, today the law is facing growing criticism. Some political and legal figures question the necessity of the Voting Rights Act in the post-Civil Rights era, suggesting that the law perpetuates the discrimination that it was intended to combat.
Texas’ electoral uncertainty is, in part, a repercussion of Voting Rights Act requirements imposed upon our state. The debate over congressional redistricting is now tied up in federal court, after maps drawn by the Texas Legislature, which sparked a firestorm of contention, including a dozen lawsuits, were rejected for preclearance by the Department of Justice and shot down by a D.C. federal court. The ensuing negotiations to finalize district lines has delayed the Texas primary — now most likely to be held on May 29 — diminishing Texans’ influence in the selection a Republican presidential nominee.
Texas Voter ID Law
The Voting Rights Act may also impact the state's ability to implement the new voter ID law, passed during the 2011 legislative session. The law requires voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls. Previously, voters could present items such as their voter registration card or a utility bill with their current address.
The new law requires preclearance from the Department of Justice, where it is currently languishing under scrutiny. Critics claim the law disenfranchises minority and low-income voters.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice to implement the law without further delay, but the voter ID law is another electoral issue that is in limbo, leaving voters in a state of confusion.
The KSTX Town Hall
On March 20, 2012, the KSTX Town Hall, moderated by TPR News Director David Martin Davies, convened a diverse panel of policymakers, political leaders and legal experts who shared their perspectives on the the Voting Rights Act, offering context and insight to help town hall attendees untangle the complexities of Texas’ electoral chaos.
Henry Flores, Ph.D., St. Mary’s University
Dr. Flores is professor of political science and dean of the Graduate School at St. Mary's University. Since 1986, Dr. Flores has served as an expert witness in more than 50 federal voting and civil rights lawsuits including serving as the statistical testifying expert in NAACP v. Harris which focused on the presidential challenge in Florida in 2000.
Gilbert Garcia, staff writer with Plaza de Armas
Garcia is a political reporter with 16 years experience reporting throughout the southwest at publications including the San Antonio Express-News, the San Antonio Current and the Phoenix New Times. He has written extensively about the redistricting debate and the voter ID law and able to provide context and background into this complex legal battle over congressional district lines.
State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)
Martinez Fischer is currently in his sixth term representing District 116. He is also currently chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus in the United States. The Caucus is one of the most visible opponents to Republican-led legislature's congressional district maps.
George Rodriguez, president of the San Antonio Tea Party
Rodriguez and the San Antonio Tea Party are vocal supporters of both the maps drawn by the Republican-led legislature and Texas' voter ID law. The party is also critical of the Voting Rights Act. They question its modern-day relevance and support its repeal.
Trey Trainor, attorney, Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, L.L.P.
Trainor is an Austin-based attorney specializing in election law and government relations. A former General Counsel to the Texas Secretary of State, Trainor advises numerous elected officials and political organizations on compliance with state and federal election regulations. He has been intimately involved in Texas redistricting, helping to design the Texas House legislative districts adopted for the 2002 elections. During the third-called Special Session of 2003, he coordinated the maps and legal aspects of passage and Department of Justice pre-clearance of HB 3, the new congressional maps adopted for the 2004 elections.
The KSTX Town Hall on the Voting Rights Act was a community initiative of Texas Public Radio News and was produced by David Martin Davies. The forum was live streamed online at NowCastSA and will air on KSTX's "The Newsmaker Hour" on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 8 p.m.
This Town Hall was made possible by the Trinity University Department of Political Science.