For a more perfect union, Restore the Voting Rights Act

Greg Nash

Automatic registration. Vote-by-mail. Same-day registration. Early voting.

These voting practices are the gold standard. These voting practices are what democracy looks like.  

{mosads}Many factors affect voter turnout throughout the United States – income, education, race and transportation, for example. One of the greatest influences, though, is the ease and accessibility with which voters can make their voices heard at the polls.

Voting is the very cornerstone of our democracy. Everything starts with the vote – representation, districting and policies that impact every single American. In the United States, though, voting rights are under attack. Old battles have become new again.

Since Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 and halted federal preclearance, elections have taken place under laws that were later found in court to be intentionally discriminatory. In states across the country and, particularly, in many previously-covered under the preclearance requirements of the VRA, new state laws and voting procedures have diluted the voting rights of certain vulnerable communities – the elderly, disabled, minority groups and younger voters.

The voter suppression we saw in the 2018 midterm elections underscores just how urgent it is that we act to protect voting rights.

In Georgia, the Republican candidate for governor used his powers as secretary of state to put 53,000 voter registrations on hold, nearly 70 percent of which belonged to black voters. In North Carolina, the state legislature closed 20 percent of early voting locations in 2018. In New Hampshire, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, students faced higher hurdles to cast their ballots.

In her Shelby dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “The court today does great damage to that right of equal opportunity… Not because it denies the existence of that right, but because it refuses its enforcement.”

Shelby challenged Congress to come up with a modern-day formula to enforce the VRA. So, this week, I am introducing H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, to stop the most egregious forms of recent voter suppression by putting the teeth back into the VRA and helping ensure equal access for every American to vote.

Unfortunately, voting rights have become partisan. One of President Trump’s first initiatives was the controversial Commission on Election Integrity based on flawed allegations of voter fraud. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently called proposals to make voting easier “a power grab” by Democrats.

What are they so afraid of?

In the past, the White House routinely worked with Congress to ensure equal access to the ballot box. With the overwhelming support of Congress, President Johnson first signed the VRA in 1965. The law was expanded and amended five subsequent times under both Republican and Democratic presidents, in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992 and, most recently, by President Bush in 2006.

Since the Shelby decision, changes to state voting laws are leading the United States in the wrong direction and leaving the voices of millions of citizens behind. The road to justice is long and winding, but no citizen deserves to be left in the rearview mirror.

A strong democracy removes barriers and improves access, so EVERY citizen can vote. For a more perfect union, we must restore the VRA.

Rep. Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th District, America’s civil and voting rights district.

Tags Donald Trump Mitch McConnell Terri Sewell

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