Time to restore Voting Rights Act

Published 9:06 pm Saturday, August 6, 2016

By Terri Sewell
Sewell is the representative for Alabama’s seventh congressional district.

August 6 marks the 51st Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most consequential piece of legislation ever passed by Congress. It was this law that literally changed the face of our democracy by allowing equal access to the ballot box for all Americans.

Now more than three years since the Supreme Court ruling in the Shelby case struck down key enforcement provisions, we have seen a return to suppressive voter practices that have created modern day barriers to voting. Voter ID restrictions, DMV closings, poll location changes without notifications creating long lines at the polls have become the new normal. These challenges remind us that we must remain ever vigilant in our fight for voter equality. The sacrifices of those marchers for justice from Selma to Montgomery led to the passage of the VRA and demand nothing less than our continued commitment to ensuring that every American can exercise the right to vote.

Recent court rulings by federal courts in Texas and North Carolina striking down restrictive photo id laws in those states have been major victories for American democracy.  These court decisions have validated my primary concerns that photo ID requirements, like Alabama’s law, have a discriminatory impact on certain vulnerable communities.  In the case of the North Carolina voter ID law, the federal appellate court ruled that provisions of the law “specifically target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Likewise, the court panel further noted the state’s motivation of reducing fraud ‘impose cures for problems that did not exist.”  Alabama election officials should heed the warning instead of doubling down on a bad voter ID law,  that in its effect, if not by design, creates real access barriers to voting for certain Alabamians.

While these recent court decisions set important precedent against suppressive state voting laws, only Congress has the power to act to fully restore the full protections of the VRA by creating new preclearance requirements. On this 5lst Anniversary of the VRA, I call on my Republican colleagues to join with the 186 Democrat co-sponsors in passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (“VRAA”) — a bill that I introduced in the House of Representatives.  The VRAA would which provide a modern formula for assessing preclearance requirements to apply to states with a track record of discriminatory voting practices based on the last 25 years.

The VRA was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat on Aug. 6, 1965, and reauthorized by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan in 1982 and George W. Bush in 2006.

On this 51st Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must recommit ourselves to protecting the vote and restoring the VRA!