Cord Jefferson at TheRoot has a good piece on the 1965 Voting Rights Act now 45 years later. There are still many barriers to black voting, both as a result of disenfranchisement because of (often nonviolent) crimes and very direct discriminatory blocking of voters of color:
Currently, 10 states — including Florida, Virginia, Arizona and Kentucky — permanently disenfranchise at least some convicted felons, and 20 more require criminals to complete prison, parole and probation before being allowed to vote again. … An estimated 5.3 million Americans, 4 million of whom are out of prison, are denied the right to vote based on their felony convictions. About a third of them are black, including 13 percent of all African-American men.
Much of this disenfranchisement, as Michelle Alexander has shown in her fine book, The New Jim Crow, comes from being imprisoned for drug crimes that whites, who do much of the drug crime, rarely get imprisoned for.
There is also the issue the substantial discrimination against black voters and other voters of color that still is carried out by white conservative forces, including Republican operatives. As I pointed out recently in Racist America (second edition, 2010):
Researchers have identified an array of blocking strategies used by white officials to reduce black representation: gerrymandering political districts, changing elective offices into appointive offices, adding new qualifications for office, purging voter-registration rolls, suddenly changing the location of polling places, creating difficult registration procedures, and using numerous other strategies to dilute the black vote. One dilution strategy consists of intentionally setting up or continuing at-large electoral systems, instead of utilizing elections by smaller districts. The purpose is to enable white voters, who dominate the larger political unit, to determine who will be the political representatives in that unit. Research data on local and state elections indicate that, taken together, these strategies have significantly reduced black political power in many areas.
Jefferson also notes that legislators have been slow to do anything about these mostly white-generated anti-voter felonies:
For five years now, lawmakers have attempted to push through the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, to no avail. That means it’s still not a federal crime to knowingly lie to voters in order to keep them from the polls, even during a federal election. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin spoke to the Deceptive Practices Act’s importance in 2007, citing a false flyer that had been handed out in black communities in Milwaukee during the 2004 presidential election.
The flyer made phony, sometimes wild claims–such as that a traffic ticket disqualified you from voting. Still no protective law has been passed. Could it be that the U.S. is still far from being a real democracy?