Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the federal law designed to end discrimination at the polling booth. Several states moved quickly to enact voter ID laws intended to make it harder for minorities and younger voters to cast their ballots. On the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, Aug. 6, we must recommit to the founding principle that made this country free – the right to vote.
The law, signed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson, was supposed to create the legal foundation to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed all citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was meant to end the use of barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests that Southern states, in particular, used to keep African-Americans from voting for their representatives.
For the most part, it worked. But some lawmakers – mostly in Southern states – were particularly determined to keep African Americans, other minorities, and young voters, away from the voting booths and found creative ways to evade the Voting Rights Act.
“They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places,” The New York Times Magazine recently reported in a story entitled, “A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-Year Campaign to Roll Back the Voting Rights Act.”
Voting discrimination has especially hurt African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans, according to a report by the National Commission on Voting Rights. “Each of these minority groups suffered extensive official voting discrimination in the past. Since 1995, successful lawsuits have been brought on behalf of each group to remedy voting discrimination and to provide equal electoral opportunities,” the commission said.
Last year, some members of Congress tried to prevent these abuses of our basic right to vote by supporting the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. At the time, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said the legislation “would restore voting oversight in states with a history of racial discrimination.” It did not pass.
Now it has been reintroduced as the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015. It has our strong support. Last year, at our International Convention in Chicago, delegates passed a resolution stating that “AFSCME will fight any form of voting discrimination or voter suppression by mobilizing and energizing American workers” and will “lobby Congress to support legislation to protect the Voting Rights Act….”
You can help us pass this critically important bill. Just click here to sign a petition to your Senate and House members urging them to move forward with the Voting Rights Advancement Act.