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Lee County voters keep an eye on changes to landmark Voting Rights Act

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Odell Johnson, 58, says he has watched Lee County change and doesn't believes voter discrimination will happen in the county. (Cory Beard, WNCN) Odell Johnson, 58, says he has watched Lee County change and doesn't believes voter discrimination will happen in the county. (Cory Beard, WNCN)
SANFORD, N.C. -

Lee County is one of the places the federal government has been watching since the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965 because of discrimination against black voters.

Split along ideological and partisan lines, the Supreme Court justices voted 5-4 Tuesday to strip the government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias -- the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get Washington's approval before changing the way they hold elections.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for a majority of conservative, Republican-appointed justices, said the law's provision that determines which states are covered is unconstitutional because it relies on 40-year-old data and does not account for racial progress and other changes in U.S. society.

The decision effectively puts an end to the advance approval requirement that has been used to open up polling places to minority voters in the nearly half century since it was first enacted in 1965, unless Congress can come up with a new formula that Roberts said meets "current conditions" in the United States.

That seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

Growing up in Lee County, barber Roshan Robles says he's experienced "a lot of Jim Crow ... discrimination and racism." He says that though things have progressed, he worries about changes to the Voter Act of 1965.

"You have to keep up what we paved the road for or it will turn back," Robles explained.

On the other hand, Odell Johnson, 58, says he has watched Lee County change and doesn't believes voter discrimination will happen in the county.

"Today you couldn't get away with the things they did in the '60s. I just don't see it," Odell said. "I would hope Lee County would make every effort to make sure every citizen has the right to vote."

Today, Lee County's director of elections, Nancy Kimball, was working on a presentation for the Department of Justice to modify the county's one-stop voting plan, as required by the voter rights act. She told WNCN she is unsure how to changes to the act with play out.

"They have decided congress will go back and determine if an area has to submit to the Department of Justice," Kimball pointed out. "I think it'll be a long process; until that point in time, we will still submit [changes to the Department of Justice]."

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Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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