It's been 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act
Donna Brazile: Many states have rolled out new rules that could inhibit people from voting
Editor’s Note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation for the Democratic National Committee. A nationally syndicated columnist, she is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Thursday August 6 marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As part of this commemoration, President Barack Obama will join Congressman John Lewis of Georgia and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman to serve in the role, to call on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act. This is a commonsense measure to restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
The Shelby decision has left citizens without one of the most effective tools ever brought to bear against discrimination at the polls. In 2016, 14 states will implement new laws that restrict ballot access in the upcoming presidential election. (Texas will not be one of them, as a unanimous panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion written by a George W. Bush appointee, held that Texas’ voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act. At the very least, the Texas law must be significantly weakened.)
Republicans believe that these restrictive laws, which target those most likely to vote Democratic, are an easy way to ensure electoral victory, so they seek to perpetuate voting restrictions. As such, congressional Republicans have so far refused to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
It should come as no surprise then that some of the Republican Party’s leading ballot access obstructionists are now running for president. Tonight on the debate stage in Cleveland, the 2016 GOP candidates will offer a sharp contrast to the message that President Obama, Congressman Lewis and Attorney General Lynch will deliver. Republican candidates will demonstrate that they are more interested in padding their extreme conservative bona fides than protecting Americans’ fundamental rights.
Will they join Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, in pushing for its renewal? I doubt it.
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio disparaged early voting in Florida while Chris Christie vetoed legislation that would have allowed early voting. Scott Walker not only signed into law one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws, he is now fundraising off of it. Rand Paul, the self-proclaimed minority outreach candidate, seems to believe we no longer need the Voting Rights Act because America elected a black president.
These actions and ideas don’t make our elections more secure or cost effective. They impact every household, and disproportionately harm women, communities of color, working families, the LGBTQ community, and youth. While Republicans might call these voters the Obama coalition, I prefer to call them the majority of Americans. Their voices and their priorities must be heard.
As a young girl growing up in the Jim Crow South, I witnessed firsthand the struggle for voting rights. I watched as members of my community participated in sit-ins, boycotts, and marches to demand the basic right to cast a ballot, and through that right have a say in determining their own fate and the fate of the country they loved.
As President Lyndon Johnson remarked in his speech calling for passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, “This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose.” That purpose – a government responsive to the voices of all its citizens – does not simply realize itself. We must fight to achieve it.
As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must overcome the challenges America faces through more democracy, not less. So let us take this time to celebrate the achievements of the past 50 years, to honor the sacrifices of those who fought to secure our rights, and to aspire to continue their fight to ensure that every citizen possesses the most fundamental American right: the right to vote.