voting rights

When the Supreme Court returns for its next term in October, among the cases it has agreed to hear is a challenge to a fundamental practice that has governed American elections for generations.

When public-policy makers talk about a state's population, they generally mean the number of human beings living in that state — as counted or estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau.

That applies to a host of political actions, including the apportionment of seats in Congress and the Electoral College votes that choose the president.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday takes up the thorny question of what kind of gerrymandering is acceptable, and what kind is not. The court is being asked to decide whether a 2010 state legislative redistricting in Alabama overloaded some districts with black Democrats on the basis of race or party.

Election season is getting underway in states all over the country, and voting rights advocates worry some of those places may move to disenfranchise minorities by exploiting a Supreme Court ruling.

That ruling last June blew up a system that had forced states with a history of discrimination to win federal approval before making election changes.

Now, legal groups are responding by training a new generation of activists to sue. Consider this recent gathering of a few dozen lawyers and community activists on the 28th floor of an Atlanta skyscraper.

It's that time again, when primary voters start casting their ballots for the midterm elections. As in recent years, voters face new rules and restrictions, including the need in 16 states to show a photo ID.

But this year, some voting rights activists say they're seeing a change — fewer new restrictions and, in some places, even a hint of bipartisanship.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers took the first step Thursday to patch a gaping hole in the 1965 Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court eviscerated a key part of the law that allowed for federal oversight of states with a history of ballot box discrimination.

People aren't exempted from new regulations because they're old and crotchety, even if that's what it sounds like when we say they're "grandfathered in."

The term "grandfathered" has become part of the language. It's an easy way to describe individuals or companies who get to keep operating under an existing set of expectations when new rules are put in place.