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The Gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

There's So Much More Still Worth Fighting For

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on November 19, 2020)

Author: Dr. RL Booker

Editor: Erica Estes


In 1870, the 15th Amendment of the United States Constitution was adopted with the intent to give African American men the right to vote. This amendment stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, the amendment did not provide enforcement of voting rights and the rise of Jim Crow created the decades-long practice of discriminatory state and local processes that intentionally discouraged, intimidated, and blocked Black men from voting. After much oppression, struggle and fight, Black women and men did not get the full and equal right to vote until the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


My heart hurts when I look at the numerous ways that state and local municipality government officials and volunteer citizens made sure that Black folks (like my ancestors and my family elders who are still alive) would experience voter suppression. Some of the ways that Black votes were oppressed consisted of poll taxes, literacy tests, and prohibiting convicted felons the right to vote. Today, we have a rise of very similar voter suppression tactics such as voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and poll closures which always lead to long voting lines in low-income Black and Brown neighborhoods. The passing of the Voting Rights Act was to prevent these kinds of tactics. As America is becoming more and more diverse by race and ethnicity, there have been intentional efforts made to suppress votes of those who some see as a threat to their view of American democracy.


After recognizing the continued racial discrimination and suppression tactics at voting polls, Congressional Republicans and Democrats in Congress made a bipartisan agreement that the 1965 Voting Rights Act needed to be renewed for 25 more years. The vote was 390-33 in the House of Representatives and 98-0 in the Senate. Republican President George W. Bush, signed the bill into law, stating it was “an example of our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect.” (Liptak, 2013). Nonetheless, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, citing the formula that identified jurisdictions with problematic racial and discriminatory histories of racial discrimination used outdated discrimination data from 1975.

This decision by the Supreme Court left room for Congress to update and rewrite the formula that determines covered jurisdictions. In 2017, the House of Representatives rewrote the formula via the Voting Rights Amendment Act and passed it 228-187. The bill was then sent to the Senate for passage. To this day, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, refuses to even bring it to the floor of the Senate for a vote. When asked about his reasoning for not allowing Senate members their legal obligation to vote on certain bills he stated, "because I get to decide what we vote on.” (Levine, 2019).

His refusal to bring this bill to the Senate floor for a vote means that the states that were identified as having histories of voter suppression can now implement voter suppression tactics, which we saw in the 2018 election cycle and are seeing again in 2020. In 2018, voter registration problems, voter purges, strict voter ID and ballot requirements, voter confusion, poll closures, and long lines, and Gerrymandering were reported. For example, in Texas, more than 750 polling locations have closed since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision. Most of these polling locations were in the fastest growing Black and Latinx neighborhoods. These issues persist today in many other southern states.

The fact that Mitch McConnell is denying elected officials in the Senate the right to vote on a bill that he and his colleagues unanimously passed in 2006 shows that he is living up to his memoir which is titled, The Long Game. As America continues to become more and more diverse and progressive, McConnell has developed a strategy to block bills that can produce progress for people of color. His plan is to hold on to power as long as possible while packing the federal courts with far-right conservative judges so that there will be a continued rule from the bench for generations to come.


As many people have declared, this is not about Democrat or Republican, it's about right versus wrong. While a major reason people of all races and ethnicities are taking it to the streets to protest police brutality against Black folks, Black and Brown people are not the only ones in this country who feel disenfranchised. Dr. Rev. William Barber states that racism is “not just against Black people, it's against humanity, it’s against the democracy, it hurts everybody." When people said this was the most important election in several generations, it was without a doubt the truth. Whether you are a die-hard Democrat or a committed Republican, one thing we should all agree on is that a fair election allows everyone in our democracy to cast their ballot without being denied or abridged based on one's race, color, class, previous condition of servitude, or gender identity. I challenge us all to stand up for what is right and fight for those who may not be able to fight for themselves. In the words of gospel singer Brian Courtney Wilson,


Now I'm moving by faith and not by

Sight towards victory by the power of your might

You're straightening out my past and opening

Every door I am your child and I'm worth fighting for

Eyes haven't seen, ears haven't heard

All you have planned for me and nothing

Can separate me from your love when

There's so much more still worth fighting for.


 

References


Breakfast Club Power 105.1. (2020, June 4). Rev. william barber on poor people's campaign. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/5Nlmp8xy3YY?t=1849


CNN. (2013, June 25). Supreme court limits voting rights act. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf072kjiPrM


Desmond-Harris, J. (2016, February 4). Why is section 4 of the voting rights act such a big part of the fight over voting rights? Vox. https://www.vox.com/2016/2/14/17619202/voting-rights-fight-explained-key-sections-rights-act


Erb, K.P. (2018, November 5). For election day, a history of the poll tax in America. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2018/11/05/just-before-the-elections-a-history-of-the-poll-tax-in-america/#5edf1c4c4e44


Levine, M. (2019, March 6). McConnell won't allow vote on election reform bill. Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/06/mcconnell-election-reform-bill-1207702


Liptak, A. (2013, June 25). Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/us/supreme-court-ruling.html


Martin, R. (2020, October 13). Get out the vote national tour. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbZk-VB-LQU&t=2248s


Smith, T. (2020, August 20). Timeline: Voter suppression in the US from the civil war to today. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/timeline-voter-suppression-us-civil-war-today/story?id=72248473

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