Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States specifically guarantees to every state a republican form of government, and the Tenth Amendment reserves to each state control over local election laws and procedures.
The Fifteenth Amendment, passed in 1870, guaranteed that the right of all citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied by any state on account of race or color. In 1965 that Fifteenth Amendment 'right to vote' was still being denied to black citizens here in Charleston County, throughout South Carolina and in many other areas of our country.
To make full participation for black citizens a reality, Congress in 1965 enacted the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act suspended the right of self-government over election matters in certain jurisdictions that Congress found to be denying full voting rights to black citizens, including all of South Carolina.
Specifically, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that any proposed legislation regarding election laws or procedures in South Carolina or Charleston County must first be submitted in advance for approval to the U.S. Justice Department or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This is true even for simple changes of voting precincts from one side of the street to the other. This preclearance requirement continues to exist to this day, even though the 'extraordinary circumstances' that gave rise to the Voting Rights Act no longer exist.
The reality in Charleston County and the entire state of South Carolina is much different in the year 2011 than it was in 1965. Poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other devices that were contrived to suppress black voter registration and participation no longer exist. Every citizen in our state should be proud that the Voting Rights Act changed that and helped to finally make the right to vote a reality for all citizens. The rate of voter participation by black and white citizens of Charleston County is now virtually identical.
President Obama, who most would agree is a liberal Democrat, overwhelmingly won Charleston County in the 2008 general election. Tim Scott, our new congressman, who most would agree is a conservative Republican, overwhelmingly won Charleston County in the 2010 general election.
In the 2010 Republican primary for governor, Nikki Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, won every one of the 182 precincts in Charleston County against three very credible white male opponents. In the 2010 Republican congressional primary, Tim Scott won every voting precinct but three in Charleston County against eight white opponents.
Benjamin Frasier, a black male, in the 2010 Democratic congressional primary also overwhelmingly beat his better-funded white opponent in Charleston County. In the 2010 general election for Congress, the voters in Charleston County had a choice of two black male and three white male candidates. The two black candidates for Congress received a combined vote of over 94 percent in Charleston County.
The Charleston County Council chairman, for 8 of the last 10 years, has been a black male. The chairman of the Charleston County Election Commission is also a black male and has been the chairman for the last several years. The chair of the Charleston County School Board has also been a minority for most of the last 10 years.
Despite the changed circumstances now existing in Charleston County, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act continues to give federal officials in Washington, D.C., the power to veto state and local election laws passed by the S.C. Legislature, Charleston County Council and even by the town councils or utility districts within Charleston County.
In the year 2011, the Voting Rights Act no longer serves the purpose of preventing discrimination, but now serves as a cover for ideological appointees in the Justice Department to force separate but equal districts in which congressional seats and county offices are racially gerrymandered to isolate voters solely on the basis of race. Incumbents from both parties willingly participate in this process as it guarantees their own re-elections. It also guarantees that there are virtually no competitive general election contests in our state. This has served to lessen the quality of political debate in our state rather than enhance it.
Many Charleston County residents are reduced to the status of being racial filler votes in districts centered hours away from their homes. Portions of peninsular Charleston, North Charleston and the Sea Islands are roped off from the rest of Charleston County and thrown into the 6th Congressional District of Jim Clyburn solely on the basis of race.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 played an important role in the history of our State and County in ensuring that the right to vote extended to all Americans. In the year 2011 the Voting Rights Act ironically serves to perpetuate separate but equal voting districts, reduces individual citizens to the status of racial statistics to be manipulated by self-serving politicians and deprives us all of the right to self-government.
We need to accept that the reality of 2011 is thankfully far different than that which existed 50 years ago. It is now time to return self-government to Charleston County.
Larry Kobrovsky is a local constitutional attorney and a member of the S.C. Board of Education.