Nearly 50 years ago, with Martin Luther King Jr. standing beside him, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law to protect African-Americans and other minorities from racist policies that made it harder for them to register to vote and participate in the political process.
But last summer, the right-wing ideologues on the United States Supreme Court, in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, gutted the Voting Rights Act, ending 40 years of protection for minorities against discriminatory and unfair attempts to limit voting based on one’s race.
Fortunately, Representatives John Conyers, John Lewis and others have now introduced legislation that would restore and modernize the Voting Rights Act for the 21st century. We need to stop Republicans in states around the country from enacting racist voter ID and voter suppression laws. Passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act now is the best way to do it.
“The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed and is vital to our commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in our electoral process. It began a healing process that ameliorated decades of discrimination and helped distinguish a democracy that serves as an example for the world. Free, fair, and accessible elections are sacrosanct, and the right of every legal voter to cast their ballot must be unassailable. The VRA broke from past attempts to end voter discrimination by requiring federal preclearance of changes to voting laws in areas with documented histories of discrimination. There is no acceptable remedy for an unfair election after the fact. Section 5 of the VRA was the only federal remedy that could stop discriminatory practices before they affected elections.
Shelby County vs. Holder severely weakened the election protections that both parties have fought to maintain. The Court disregarded years of work by Congress. In a 5-4 decision, the Court eliminated the VRA’s formula for determining which areas are covered by section 5. The result is that the pre-clearance requirement remains, but it no longer applies anywhere except in the handful of locations currently subject to a court order. By striking down Section 4, the Court presented Congress with both a challenge and a historic opportunity. We are again called to restore the critical protections of the act by crafting a new formula that will cover jurisdictions with recent evidence of discrimination.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act is bipartisan, bicameral, and compliant with the Supreme Court’s ruling. I am confident that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can work together to ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected. Voter discrimination still exists, and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a final victory.” — Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner
While the Supreme Court did not invalidate Section 5, a key part of the Voting Rights Act was thrown out. They threw out the basic formula that has been in use since the bill’s passage in 1965. That formula determines when the Justice Department must review local election rules, that might suppress the votes of African-American and Latino citizens, before they could be put into effect. Voter suppression rules can still be challenged by the Department of Justice after the fact, but this often happens too late to prevent minority voters from being blocked from the polls. The court’s decision effectively guts the Voting Rights Act, rendering it useless until Congress updates the coverage formula for Section 5.
Republicans didn’t waste any time in taking advantage of this ruling for electoral gain. Within hours of Supreme Court’s decision, several states in the South immediately announced that they would pursue onerous new voter ID laws that were clearly designed to make it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to vote.
It’s the same old story of using the irrational fear of voter “fraud” as cover while they work to disenfranchise eligible voters. The truth is, voter fraud is exceedingly rare. More Americans are struck by lightning than commit voter fraud. The real problem, the one that can adversely impact election results if we’re not vigilant, is voter suppression.
Tell Congress to fight voter suppression and pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act now.
For decades the Voting Rights Act protected voters in pockets of the country with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices. In 2012, it allowed the Justice Department to block attempts by Texas, South Carolina and Florida to implement discriminatory voting rules. But until Congress restores the Voting Rights Act, right-wing efforts to make it harder for African-Americans and Latino citizens to vote will run completely amok.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act would fix Section 5, our strongest tool for fighting voter suppression efforts, by updating the formula for determining which states and municipalities need pre-approval from the Department of Justice to change their voting laws. We need to show Congress massive public support for this crucial bill. Let’s put the extreme right-wing Republicans in Congress on the hook for not going on the record against efforts in the states to make it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to vote.
1. “‘Shelby County': One Year Later,” Brennan Center for Justice, June 24, 2014
2. “H.R. 3899: The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner
3. “Voting Rights in the Post-Shelby county Era,” American Constitution Society, June 20, 2014