OTTUMWA — They try to stay out of politics, say members of the League of Women Voters, but when it comes to voting rights, they're not afraid to speak up.
This week's ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States isn't all bad news, said Beverly VerSteegh, president of the Ottumwa chapter. But it's not all good, either, she said.
"It opens the door for states to make their own rules about what you have to do in order to vote," she said.
And the trend lately, she fears, has been to make it more difficult to vote, not easier. Even in Iowa, which was not named in the suit, the American Civil Liberties Union complained that proposed changes to state code would have harmed legal citizens of Hispanic decent. Had the federal law been different, they may not have been able to fight those new restrictions. But how will the federal law change?
"I don't think we'll know that until Congress has [rewritten] the language of the voter protection acts," VerSteegh said, adding that those new words will determine whether the ruling is good news or bad.
In the past, several states had been hit by the various national voter acts because they had tried to keep blacks from voting, through use of poll taxes or tests designed to trip up African-Americans. So the federal government said those states would have to get permission from the U.S. Justice Department if they wanted to make any changes to how people vote.
The Supreme Court said the government can't punish those states for something that happened 40 years ago. So don't times change?
Maybe, maybe not, said League member Jean Dell.
"How long something has been in existence is not a good indicator of whether it's beneficial," said Dell.