Tony Quinn

Another View: Voting Rights Act needed a repair, and got it

Published: Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2E

Foon Rhee's commentary on the Voting Rights Act is ill-informed and misleading ("Who will safeguard voting rights now? – Gutted law may lead to mischief"; Forum, July 21). In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 45-year-old formula under which Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was applied to certain states and counties. In California, four counties were originally covered: Monterey, Merced, Kings and Yuba.

Rhee contends that the court action "gutted" the Voting Rights Act; in fact, it is just the opposite. The important part of the Voting Rights Act for California is not Section 5, applying to these small counties, but Section 2 that requires creation of "majority-minority" districts in areas with large minority populations, which certainly California has.

Black population is concentrated in Alameda and Los Angeles counties, and Latino population is greatest in Los Angeles County. Asian population is highest in Bay Area counties. None of these areas fell under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act; they fall under Section 2. The Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011 did properly apply Section 2 to these areas and created many majority-minority districts. California also has its own California Voting Rights Act that is being used successfully to dismantle at-large city councils. By requiring individual districts, the new city councils are reflective of diverse populations. These laws adequately safeguard voting rights in California.

Rhee cites a litany of minor election matters affecting the Section 5 counties but fails to tell us how they came under the act. In the 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam War, each of these counties had a large military population that did not vote in California, and the formula brought them under the act. He does quote an election official in Yuba County noting the existence of Beale Air Force Base in that county, but it was true in every Section 5 county: Ford Ord in Monterey County, Lemoore Naval Air Station in Kings County and Castle Air Force Base in Merced County. This had nothing to do with voting rights. The formula was outdated and archaic – two of these installations do not even exist anymore – but for years Congress refused to change it.

Redistricting reforms at both the state and local level over recent decades have enhanced minority electoral opportunities. There was no reason for a Vietnam-era population glitch to bring California under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court properly threw it out.

Tony Quinn has worked on redistricting issues for more than 40 years.

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