Still Fighting For Equal Treatment

I can’t wait for a time when the word “minorities” is obsolete. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening any time soon, certainly not as long as minorities in our country still must fight to gain and retain equal treatment under the law.

Most of us are a bit spoiled in Hawaii when it comes to matters of race. I’m not saying we are free of racism or bigotry here. Clearly, it exists, even in the land of the mixed plate.

But our struggles over race pale in comparison with the titanic battles being waged across the pond over voter rights. In fact, the recent Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) decision overturning a critical section of the Voting Rights Act has made me appreciate our unique situation all the more.

The biggest difference is that here we are all minorities. Or rather, there is no clear majority. Hawaii folks don’t fall into the white, black, Latino divisions dissecting the rest of the country.

That means the kind of race-based voter suppression tactics attempted by some Mainland politicians are almost unheard of here.

That doesn’t mean we are unaffected by momentous decisions made far away in our nation’s Capitol.

“While any racial discrimination in voting is too much,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in SCOTUS’s recent decision gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, “Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

That makes sense until you think about the reality of “current conditions.” And the reality of our country’s political situation is gridlock. Congress will not fix or eliminate discrimination in voting as long as party politics remain so bitterly divided.

Linda Greenhouse, who writes for The New York Times on matters relating to SCOTUS and the law, noted in her column that as soon as the ruling went out, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott announced that his state’s voter ID law would take effect immediately. A federal court had blocked that law last summer.

“The Texas statute has the most stringent requirements of any voter-ID law in the country,” wrote Greenhouse. “The three-judge federal panel, pointing out in a 56-page opinion the several less onerous versions that the Legislature had rejected, found that the state had failed to meet its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to show that the law wouldn’t have the effect of suppressing the minority vote.”

And so the fighting begins anew over a fundamental right that should have been settled long ago.

How do we even begin to solve the big problems that affect us in this country, in our state, in the entire world – things such as climate change, poverty, economic and ecological survival – if we can’t get beyond our destructive partisan differences?

At least here in Hawaii the talk is all about making voting easier, not harder. Now if only more of our Hawaii residents actually would exercise their right to vote the next time elections roll around.