Posted by Nadia Aziz on July 30, 2015 in Blog

As President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress on March 15th, 1965, he spoke of the “dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.” He spoke of times when “history and fate meet at a single time in a single place” to shape the course of man’s search for freedom.  He recalled the peaceful protestors that were brutally assaulted in Selma, Alabama just one week prior.  He spoke of the “most basic” right to vote.

 Fifty years ago, on August 6th, 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was signed into law by President Johnson.  The VRA required certain states and counties with a history of discrimination to seek pre-approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws. This landmark legislation served as a safeguard to ensure equal access to the right to vote for all people. In the 1940s, black voter registration across the south was an abysmal 3%. By 1964, the percentage climbed in Georgia and South Carolina and rose to 27% and 37% respectively. After the VRA was signed in to law in 1965, black voter registration across the south had increased to 62% by 1968. This laid the groundwork for the 2008 election, which had the highest level of Black and Hispanic voter turnout in presidential elections since the Census Bureau began measuring voter statistics.

 The efforts to expand voting rights have not gone unchallenged in recent years. 2010 saw a concerted effort to introduce restrictive voting laws across the states.  Legislation was introduced to require voter identification, early voting was scaled back, and new requirements with respect to absentee ballots were proposed. Since the 2010 election, 21 states have new laws making it more difficult to vote. 

In the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, the Supreme Court invalidated the key part of the VRA – the map that determined which states were required to seek approval from the federal government before they changed their voting laws.

Since that ruling, new voting laws in North Carolina eliminated same-day registration, reduced the early voting period, and instituted a strict voter ID requirement. The voter ID law required a form of identification that 318,000 registered voters in North Carolina lack.  In Texas, a law that was previously blocked by federal court under the Voting Rights Act was implemented after the Shelby County decision. The Texas law requires a photo ID and curbed voter registration drives. Ohio saw restrictive laws go into effect in 2014 that cut the “Golden Week” of voting, where voters could register to vote and cast a ballot all in one trip.

 Since the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, 464 bills that would enhance voting access were introduced in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Yet over 110 bills that would restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced or carried over in 33 states. 

 Earlier this month, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (VRAA 2015), was introduced to update the clearance formula, and restore the bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965. VRAA 2015 provides a data-driven coverage formula that applies to all states and is centered on repeated voting rights violations in the past 25 years. While states with persistent violations would be covered for 10 years, they can establish a clean record and come out of coverage. 

 It has been 2 years since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and Congress has yet to unite and restore the landmark civil rights legislation. The 2016 election is the first Presidential election in 50 years where voters will not have the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

 It is time to once again protect this most basic right. Help us restore the Voting Rights Act by urging your representatives to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015.