On Monday, a federal trial began in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to see if recent changes in the state’s election laws unfairly and purposefully discriminate against minority voters. The changes in question include an end to same-day registration, an end to a high school voter registration program, and a reduction in early voting days.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act by striking down a coverage formula that identified nine states – including North Carolina – with a history of voter discrimination. Before the 2013 ruling, federal approval was needed before any changes in election laws in these states could go into effect. However, in the immediate aftermath of Shelby County, Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature were able to implement the restrictions without federal approval.
The North Carolina N.A.A.C.P, League of Women Voters, a group of college students, and the Department of Justice initiated the case, arguing that the measures should be struck down, and that North Carolina should be required by the court to submit voting proposals to federal approval since the contested measures were intended to discriminate, in violation of the Constitution.
Several states remodeled their voting laws following the Shelby decision; however, North Carolina’s restrictions represent some of the broadest changes in the country.
This case is the latest development in a series of initiatives to protect the right to vote across the United States, including by restoring and strengthening the Voting Rights Act. PFAW recently participated in a rally in Roanoke, Virginia, and members of our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership networks are participating in today’s events surrounding the beginning of the trial in Winston-Salem.
Today, on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, People For the American Way joins a diverse group of civil rights and voting rights advocates in Roanoke, Virginia to rally for a restored Voting Rights Act (VRA). Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, is addressing the crowd. Below are her remarks, as prepared.
Hello everyone. I am Minister Leslie Watson Malachi and I’m the director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way.
It’s been two years since the Supreme Court gutted the crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement. Two years since Justice Scalia claimed that protecting the right to vote somehow represents “racial entitlement.”
The Voting Rights Act, when it was whole, was one of the most important tools we had for confronting a very ugly entitlement: the entitlement of those who think that certain votes and certain voices should matter more than others. It helped interrupt a phenomenon that is still alive and well – the ongoing devaluation of the votes, and the lives, of Black Americans. The racist massacre at Emanuel AME church in Charleston provided a horrific reminder of that reality.
The VRA gave a sense of security and safety that translated beyond just security and safety in the voting booth. After the VRA, we had the election of first-time African Americans in mayoral and gubernatorial seats post Reconstruction. The Voting Rights Act was more than a piece of public policy. It was a statement, enshrined in law, about the value of African American lives and voices.
So far, Congress has failed to restore that statement, those protections. What kind of message does that send?
Chairman Goodlatte, we are here in your backyard to demand that you and your Republican colleagues do better. Stop ignoring racial discrimination at the polls. Stop ignoring the calls from Americans of all political stripes and restore the VRA.
In the past two years, politicians in cities and states that were once protected by the federal oversight of the original VRA have been passing laws that make it harder for people of color to vote. These politicians didn’t waste any time in turning back the clock on progress we’ve made toward making sure that all Americans can participate in our democracy.
Congress shouldn’t waste any more time in doing just the opposite: restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting every person’s right to cast a vote that counts.
Fifty years ago, courageous men and women died fighting for these protections. They knew that the right to vote is the most precious right we have in a democracy. We can’t let their legacy come undone.
For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has helped protect each American’s right to vote, a founding principle of our democracy. Last year, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a key provision of the VRA and imperiled those hard-won voting rights. But new polling finds that across the board, Americans want to see these protections restored.
The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners and released this week, finds that Americans believe laws must be in place to ensure that each individual has a voice in our democratic process. More than 8 in 10 voters favor the Voting Rights Act for combatting persistent issues with voting discrimination, including 72 percent of respondents who are strongly in favor of VRA protections. Additionally, over two-thirds of voters from diverse racial, political and geographical backgrounds support restoring the Voting Rights Act and strengthening protections for the right to vote.
The overwhelming response in support of strong voting protections underscores the failure of Congress to listen to the American people. Even in the face of this broad consensus, House Republican leadership has made it clear that protecting the right to vote is not a priority for them.
More than a year ago, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to voting rights when they struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in their Shelby v. Holder decision. In the wake of this decision, nine states and many other counties that once had to have their voting law changes approved by the federal government before they took effect — what’s known as “preclearance”— no longer have to do so. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, where does that leave voters in the preclearance states and in other states where legal battles over voting laws are raging?
Yesterday ProPublica published a great round-up of the current landscape of voting rights across the country. Some of the lowlights included:
• Seven preclearance states have announced new restrictions since the Supreme Court rolled back the Voting Rights Act.
• [In 2012], a federal court called Texas's photo ID law [the] “most stringent in the country.” Now, it’s in effect.
• Two months after the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina cut early voting and eliminated same-day registration.
ProPublica notes that while glaringly discriminatory barriers like literacy tests are behind us, these legal changes matter a great deal. As voting rights advocates have demonstrated, voter ID laws, limitations on early voting, and voter roll purges disproportionately harm communities of color and other marginalized groups. Rather, Americans agree that no one should be facing barriers to casting a ballot and participating in our democracy.
You can read the full article here.
On Wednesday, PFAW joined representatives from a number of organizations similarly concerned with civil rights and the cornerstone of American democracy – the right to vote – on Capitol Hill to present Speaker John Boehner with the signatures of more than 500,000 Americans demanding that Congress move forward in restoring key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Today, access to the voting booth has become an increasingly imperiled right for many Americans, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder. Across the country, states and localities are making changes to voting laws that make it more complicated and onerous to carry out a fundamental civic duty, especially for ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly, and student voters.
However, the Republican leadership in the House does not seem to share the public’s sense of urgency on compromised voting access. Tellingly, neither Speaker Boehner nor his staff acknowledged the coalition’s attempt to deliver the signatures in-person. The office that he keeps for his congressional district was locked, and knocks went unanswered, shutting out the American people, including his constituents, in the middle of a workday while Congress is in session.
In a press conference following the attempted delivery of the petitions, lawmakers and representatives from the #VRA4Today coalition of more than 50 advocacy groups spoke of the need to strengthen the rights of voters and restore the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act. Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way, said:
Repairing the damage done by the court majority in Shelby is a critical test of whether Congress can put partisanship behind to protect our democracy. The will of the people is clear: we will not tolerate voting discrimination in our country, we will not turn back the clock.
Joining in this sentiment was House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who urged his colleagues to support the rights of Americans to participate in their government. “The right to vote is the most fundamental right in a democracy,” he said. “It is the right to have one’s voice heard.”
We’re already well aware that the voter ID laws that have been passed in many states are designed not to prevent fraud but to deter certain groups of people from voting, as several Republicans have admitted in the past. But even without those accidental moments of honesty, it would be clear that something other than an epidemic of voter fraud was motivating the passage of these laws, because there is nothing close to an epidemic of voter fraud.
Today, we have some new evidence of that. Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News reviewed the 66 voter fraud cases prosecuted by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott since 2004 and found that just four cases would have been prevented by the state’s voter ID law. The law was passed in 2011 and blocked by a unanimous three-judge panel of federal judges until this spring, when the Supreme Court gutted the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act. Just two hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, Abbott declared the voter ID law to be once again…which in turn led to another Justice Department lawsuit.
The numbers that are supposedly driving Texas’ voter ID push are so ridiculous that they’re actually quite difficult to illustrate. Consider this: Texas had 13,594,264 registered voters in 2012. Four cases of fraud out of 13,594,264 voters works out to… actually, it’s a percentage so small my calculator won’t even display it. Of course, voter fraud is a serious felony that Texas is right to prosecute on the rare occasions that it happens. But Greg Abbott considers the crime widespread enough to pass a law that will disenfranchise thousands of voters who can’t access the ID they need, or will be confused or otherwise deterred by the restrictions and won’t go to the polls.
Perhaps the most telling part of Slater’s piece is this:
“Abbott acknowledged that voter ID wouldn’t have made a difference in most of the cases he has prosecuted.”
Instead, Abbott’s response to Slater’s data on the ineffectiveness of voter ID was as logical as can be expected: Obamacare!
So Abbott’s solution to prevent potential voter fraud is one that he admits won’t address most of the (very few) actual instances of fraud, yet he’s pushing ahead with instituting a law that will disenfranchise thousands? To me, it looks like he doesn’t even believe his own spin anymore. The only “problem” this law addresses is that some people want to vote for Democrats—and Greg Abbott knows it.
My family is from Selma, Alabama. My grandmother, aunt and mother (both teenagers at the time) were on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, what the history books now record as Bloody Sunday. Due to the terrible violence that occurred, my grandmother, a nurse, was called to the hospital to help treat the numerous people who had been injured, one of them being Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis.
I grew up hearing my family members’ Civil Rights Movement stories, continually in awe of their courage and determination. They had to deal with fire hoses, dogs, and police batons in order to receive what my generation now takes for granted, the right to vote.
Yesterday, nearly 50 years after Bloody Sunday and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, I stood outside the Supreme Court with many others who chanted, sang and rallied to protect the VRA’s Section 5. Yes, the dogs and the cattle prods are gone, but the spirit to oppress some of America’s citizens remains.
It saddens me that we still have to fight for our right to vote, and that there are those who are still trying to deny others their rights at the ballot box. But I was encouraged by the number of people who were outside the Supreme Court yesterday, people of all races and creeds and ages who are dedicated to and invested in protecting the right to vote! Together we sent a message to the Justices and to the nation that Section 5 is still needed, because while our country has come a long way from that grainy black and white footage of people getting beaten while fighting for their rights, discrimination and attempts to disenfranchise still exist, especially in the states covered by Section 5.
It’s often said that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, but in my case, I am truly a descendant of Civil Rights heroes whose names will never be in the history books. They took a risk, put their lives on the line, not just for themselves but for me, someone who would not be born for another 15 years. When I hear my grandmother at 86 years old say that she will put on her marching shoes if she has to, then I know that I have no choice but to put on mine. I was proud to be at the rally to protect Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act yesterday. I was proud to honor the legacy of my family and anyone else who participated in the Movement. I was proud to continue the fight to ensure that no one is denied the right to vote.