by Brian Washington
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has reached its 48th anniversary with this landmark piece of legislation facing a wave of attempts from misguided politicians who want to roll back the rights of millions of Americans at the ballot box.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation into law, the Voting Rights Act quickly became known as the most important piece of modern civil rights legislation ever approved by Congress. It led to the elimination of literacy tests, poll taxes, and other schemes designed to keep African-Americans from voting.
“Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield,” said President Johnson, on August 6, 1965.
However, earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, severely weakened the law by striking down the heart of the legislation and key to its effectiveness—the map that determines which states must get federal permission before they make changes to their voting laws.
Following the court’s decision, it didn’t take long for states to introduce, and in some cases resurrect, efforts to put limits on voting. Most of these anti-voting bills are aimed at curtailing the rights of student, elderly, African-American, and Hispanic voters.
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In North Carolina, lawmakers have introduced a sweeping new elections bill that, among other things, contains one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country. The bill would also shorten the time for early voting and take away the option of straight-ticket voting. Provisional ballots that are cast in the wrong precinct would no longer be counted.
Similar bills are popping up in other places as well—including Pennsylvania, where lawmakers have approved a new tougher voter ID law, and in Ohio, where a state lawmaker is seeking co-sponsors for a bill to drop the number of days to cast an absentee ballot before an election from 35-to-17.
And in Florida, Governor Rick Scott is reviving his attempt to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens, even though his first attempt last year yielded poor results, created lots of unnecessary headaches, and was rejected by county elections supervisors and the U.S. Justice Department.
The good news is, even though the U.S. Supreme Court neutered a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is aggressively trying to use other sections of the law in an attempt to beef-up some of the protections the court’s decision dismantled. In fact, Holder has asked the Justice Department to seek court action to get the state of Texas to get permission from the federal government before making new changes to its election laws.
“My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal,” said Holder, speaking last month in Philadelphia before the National Urban League, “to stand against such discrimination wherever it is found.”
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