The Right To Vote: An American Issue

Posted by Allegra Chapman on October 9, 2015

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Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said yesterday that there’s been “dramatic improvement” in access to voting since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 and that there’s no need to support reauthorizing the law “as is.”

Mr. Bush should check his facts. Since Shelby County v. Holder – a decision in which the Supreme Court dismantled a 50-year-old provision that prevented states from making discriminatory changes to their voting procedures – nearly every state in the union has introduced a bill to do just that: make discriminatory changes.

We saw it in North Carolina, when the legislature cut same day registration, early voting, and a host of other reforms with proven track records to safeguard Americans’ votes. We saw it in Texas and Wisconsin, both of which passed strict photo ID laws making it much harder for low-income Americans – including people of color, youth, and seniors – to vote. And we’ve just seen it in Alabama, where the Governor is about to shut down motor vehicle offices in black-majority communities, closing off to citizens the most accessible way to access a now-required photo ID. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface.

We may have seen “dramatic improvements” in our country, and even in our voting rights, in the decades following the 1960s. But clearly there’s still plenty of work to do. For ours to be a truly representative democracy, every eligible American must participate – everyone’s voice must be counted.

That’s why it’s crucial that we restore the protections that for so long ensured all eligible Americans had access to the voting booth. The Voting Rights Act worked in the past – and its protections are still needed today. Our most recent history proves this. Before the Congress now is the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), a modern, flexible formula that ensures no jurisdiction with a track record of discrimination can continue to perpetrate bad behavior.

This is far more, and far better, than a mere reauthorization of the law “as is.”

It is deeply troubling that a law garnering bipartisan law for the past five decades now can’t even get a hearing in the House of Representatives. It is just as troubling for the state of our government that the dialogue and debate once prevalent at Congress has come to a standstill. Whether Americans’ access to the ballot box has “dramatically improved” or taken a decided downturn in the last five years is an issue that cannot be agreed upon unless and until the men and women elected to represent us get down to work and hold a hearing.

Our Congress, in bipartisan fashion, reauthorized and/or added to every provision of the Voting Rights Act four times over the past five decades. These endorsements demonstrate that when Democrats and Republicans convene and consider evidence, they can get important things accomplished. At each hearing, thousands of documents were reviewed and dozens of experts called upon; at each hearing, the law in its entirety was reauthorized. Perhaps this is why Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has already added her name to the list of VRAA co-sponsors; she has reviewed the evidence, noting that, “the Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought an end to the ugly Jim Crow period in American history.”

As the senator also noted, “it is fundamentally important in our system of government that every American be given the opportunity to vote, regardless of who they are, where they live, and what their race or national origin may be."

Amen. It is time now for our elected officials to recognize that the right to vote is neither Democratic nor Republican, but American. And it’s time for them to get to work.

Tell Congress to act now.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

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