Have Republicans hit rock bottom on voting rights yet?
© Getty Images

It’s been a challenging few years for voting rights advocates.  The confluence of bad Supreme Court decisions, politicians attempting to discourage some voters by changing the rules of elections, and congressional obstruction have brought on a new Dark Age of voting discrimination.

It wasn’t always this way. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Ensuring the right to vote for all Americans has been a bipartisan issue since 1965. In fact, just ten years ago, Republican President George W. Bush signed a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed overwhelmingly by a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

As we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA, that ten years seems like an eternity.

The Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted the VRA and left the states and localities most likely to engage in voter discrimination free to institute practices that would have been blocked when the VRA was in full effect.  Since then, we’ve seen a resurgence in voting discrimination measures nationwide, and most have been pushed by Republicans. 

The platform adopted by the Republican Party at this year’s convention pays no homage to the GOP’s legacy as the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  Instead of calling for a desperately needed restoration of the VRA, it doubles down on procedural tricks and barriers to voting that disenfranchise communities of color.

Nearly 150 years after the GOP championed the 15th amendment, which prohibited state and federal governments from denying the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the party is now attempting to ride a tidal wave of voting discrimination into the 2016 election.

As documented in the recent report, Warning Signs, rollbacks in voting rights in several swing states once covered by VRA preclearance could determine the outcome of 84 Electoral College votes and control of the Senate.

The temptation to shave points off the participation rate of voters of color has proven too great to resist.  Since Shelby, all five of these states – North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia – have engaged in deceptive and sophisticated efforts to disenfranchise voters that will have an impact on the 2016 election.

For example, North Carolina has razor-close margins for president, governor, and the Senate this year and has become one of the nation’s leaders in suppressing votes.  Within weeks of the Shelby decision, it passed a monster voter suppression law alongside a host of local polling place closures in Black neighborhoods, redistricting, and more.

While congressional gridlock has hindered movement on VRA restoration, there are glimmers of hope for future change. There are two bills to restore the VRA pending in Congress and both have bipartisan support. Republican Speaker of the House Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Bottom line Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition MORE has voiced his support for the VRA restoration—but has not urged his caucus to consider it. 

And as the saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Civil rights groups and voters of conscience from both parties are continuing to lay the groundwork for a desperately needed VRA restoration.  The will is there and the need is there.  All that’s left is for Congress to act.


Wade Henderson is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition more than 200 diverse civil rights organizations.