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Bronx Residents React to Supreme Court Voting Rights Decision

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Supreme Court's decision striking down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act has an impact on parts of New York City. Under the law, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx required Federal clearance in advance, known as "preclearance," before they could make changes to voting procedures. But the Court said that the jurisdictions that had been covered under the law were chosen using old 1960s data and that they might not be discriminating any more.

Leslie Campbell, a Bronx resident, thinks that protections like the Voting Rights Act are still necessary. She worries about rolling back protections and the effect that might have on the Bronx and elsewhere.

"Things, although on the surface may seem like it has changed, there's a lot of discrimination, there's still a lot of racism, a lot of segregation," Campbell said.

The Bronx's inclusion on the list of places where disenfranchisement has existed historically may seem hard to believe today. Many of its elected officials, at every level of government, are from racial and ethnic groups the landmark civil rights legislation was meant to protect.

For Michael Benjamin, a former Democratic state assemblyman from the Bronx, this is exactly why Section 4 needed to be struck down.

"The City of New York does not violate the Voting Rights Act in any form or substance,” Benjamin said. “There are other jurisdictions around the country where that happens."

Congressman Jose Serrano has been an elected official in the Bronx nearly as long as the Voting Rights Act has been law. He says that the Supreme Court erred in striking down pre-clearance, even for the Bronx.

"We've made incredible strides, but we're still not where I think we should be,” said Serrano. “Not when you see other places making it harder for people to vote."

In its ruling, the Court suggests Congress could come up with new criteria for parts of the country where voter disenfranchisement is still an issue. Congressman Serrano says he would like to see that happen. Whether the Bronx will make it back onto that list remains uncertain.

Editors:

Jennifer Vanasco and Julianne Welby

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