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.
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.