Texas Public Radio (TPR) 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. The forum takes place on Tuesday, March 20, at the Pearl Full Goods Studio, 200 E. Grayson St., Suite 105. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The discussion begins at 7 p.m.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, 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.
The Texas Redistricting Debate
Texas’ electoral uncertainty is, in part, a repercussion of Voting Rights Act requirements imposed upon our state. The row 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: The Voting Rights Act of 1965
The KSTX Town Hall, moderated by TPR News Director David Martin Davies, will convene a diverse panel of policymakers, political leaders and legal experts who will share their perspectives on the necessity of the Voting Rights Act, offering context and insight to help Town Hall attendees untangle the complexities of Texas’ electoral chaos.
“Texas Public Radio News is committed to providing a diverse range of perspectives on the vital issues every day on KSTX 89.1 FM,” says Davies. “With the KSTX Town Hall series, we’re bringing that well-rounded coverage out into the community to encourage a civil discourse on a matter that impacts our listeners and the public at large. We hope our Town Hall attendees leave with a deeper understanding of the congressional redistricting debate, the new voter ID law and how it impacts them as voters.”
Henry Flores, Ph.D. - Professor of political science and dean of the St. Mary’s University Graduate School
Gilbert Garcia -Staff writer with Plaza de Armas
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) - Chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus
George Rodriguez - president of the San Antonio Tea Party
Trey Trainor - an Austin-based attorney specializing in election law and government relations.
The KSTX Town Hall on the Voting Rights Act is free and open to the public. Attendees are invited to pose questions to the panelists prior to and during the forum by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can also be submitted at facebook.com/texaspublicradio or via Twitter @tprnews.
The KSTX Town Hall on the Voting Rights Act is a community initiative of Texas Public Radio News and is produced by David Martin Davies. The forum will be live streamed online at NowCastSA and will air on KSTX's "The Newsmaker Hour" on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 8 p.m. This community discussion is sponsored by the Trinity University Department of Political Science.