Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Struggle for Voting Rights is Not Over

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma March. American democracy is basically in its infancy. Fifty years is a relatively short period of time. Within that short period of time, African Americans have made great progress in the political arena. We have black city council members, black mayors, black governors, black Congress members and black senators. Now, we even have a black president. At one point, the idea of a black president was unimaginable. Today, it is a living and breathing reality. That progress is the result of struggle. Our elders and ancestors were beaten, gassed, bitten, shot and killed. They sacrificed everything for our right to vote.

Unfortunately, our struggle is not over. The U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act by declaring Section 4 of the Act unconstitutional. Section 4 of the Voting Rights act established the formula for determining which states and jurisdictions are subject to preclearance. Under preclearance, the covered jurisdictions were required to submit all proposed voting rights law changes to the Department of Justice or to the federal district court in the District of Columbia. The covered jurisdiction included states and cities with a long history of using tests and other devices to prevent African American from voting. Covered states included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Parts of  California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota were also covered.
Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights prevented discrimination before it could occur. Without lengthy and costly litigation, Sections 4 and 5 stopped discriminatory voting laws from being implemented.

Sadly, that safeguard is no longer in place. Immediately after the disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision, formerly covered states and jurisdictions began erecting second generation barriers to voting such as voter ID laws, third party voter registration restrictions, elimination of early voting and other similar measures. In addition, right wing extremists continued deploying unscrupulous challengers at the polls to intimidate voters. They continued launching deceptive campaigns targeting black communities. All of those measures are designed to suppress black voters and others who tend to vote for the Democratic Party.

We have come too far to allow anyone to turn back the clock of progress. Instead of simply celebrating and reenacting the past, we must vigorously push for the passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act. That Act will restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. It will preserve what our parents and grandparents fought, bled and died for.  Also, we must use this moment to encourage our people to register and vote.

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