One hard lesson from the 2012 election is that Americans' right to vote can't be taken for granted.
Too many had to wait too long or jump through too many hoops to reach the ballot box. Too many politicians schemed to tilt the outcome by putting hurdles in front of certain groups.
That's reason enough why Congress should support measures to modernize our election machinery, and why the U.S. Supreme Court should not undermine the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But Wednesday, the high court strongly hinted it is ready to roll back, if not entirely strike down, a key part of that law. Under Section 5, nine states, most in the South, and parts of seven others, including three counties in California, must get clearance from the Department of Justice or a federal court before redrawing election districts or changing any voting procedures -- to make sure minority voters won't be disadvantaged.
In the Alabama case before the court, the law's opponents argue that it's unfair for those states to face scrutiny when so many blacks and Latinos are being elected and when practices like literacy tests and poll taxes are only in the history books.
The court, which is expected to rule by June, already has tweaked the law, ruling in 2009 that jurisdictions can get out of Section 5 by demonstrating a clean record over 10 years. That's what Merced County did to be taken off the list in August. Now, only three California counties -- Kings, Monterey and Yuba -- are covered.
There's plenty of evidence that the court ought not to go further -- and should defer to our elected representatives. It was only after hearing testimony about continued, if more subtle, discrimination that Congress overwhelmingly voted in 2006 to extend Section 5 for 25 years. And last year's election demonstrates that the rights of voters need to be jealously safeguarded.
Indeed, challenges under Section 5 blocked some of the most egregious efforts to suppress the vote, such as requiring certain photo identification and limiting early voting.
In the House of Representatives, nearly 170 Democrats are behind the Voter Empowerment Act, which calls for streamlining voter registration and for banning some practices used to try to purge registration rolls.
But this should be a bipartisan issue. Everyone should want free, fair and smooth elections.