Waters condemns Republicans’ Nationwide Voter Suppression Efforts
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) announced that August 6, marked the 46th anniversary of the day that the Voting Rights Act was enacted. President Lyndon Johnson signed this historic legislation into law on August 6, 1965.
“I am very pleased to commemorate the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This landmark legislation was, and remains, critical to protecting the democratic participation of African-Americans in the United States. While African-Americans have made many strides and are now represented across all levels and branches of government, we still need the VRA to ensure protections against any local or federal laws that may adversely impact minority voting rights she said.”
In 1965, Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to ensure that African Americans in the South would have equal access to vote. The VRA is widely considered the most important and successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted. Congress designed the Act to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment and to eliminate racial restrictions of the right to vote. The exclusion of African-Americans from the franchise, together with the doctrine of “separate but equal,” provided the legal foundations for the overt and often brutal regime of racial oppression known as “Jim Crow.” The Act was developed in direct response to the failure of previous federal legislation and explicitly addressed both the direct and indirect obstacles to minority voting.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right and is critical to our democracy. In a post Citizens United political system where powerful corporations and special interests are able to expend exorbitant amounts of money to influence elections, the right to vote remains the great equalizer. Every vote counts, and for those counted among our most vulnerable populations and communities it is sometimes the only way they are able to hold their leaders accountable or elect representatives who advocate their interests.”
At the height of Jim Crow, southern state legislators, who had been resentful of the limited protections that were extended to African-Americans shortly after Reconstruction, began to repeal state civil rights protections. In their concerted efforts to circumvent explicit voting protections that were afforded to African-Americans under the 14th and 15th Amendments, southern lawmakers implemented nearly a dozen policies intended to prevent blacks from voting. These measures included poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and gerrymandering – redrawing election lines to make it impossible for blacks to be elected to office.
“Today, as we continue to see the emergence of new state voter suppression laws, the VRA remains relevant. With only 15 months left before the next presidential election, Republican-led legislatures are rewriting voting laws to require photo identification at the polls, reduce the number of early voting days, and enhance voting restrictions against ex-felons and out-of-state students. These ‘smoke and mirror’ policies are 21st Century poll taxes that are similar to the restrictive eligibility requirements that were passed during segregation. The new voter ID laws and other restrictions have the potential to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters. Minorities, poor people, seniors, and students are among those that will be impacted the most.”
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Governor Rick Perry of Texas both signed laws this year that would require each voter to show an official, valid photo ID to cast a ballot. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill to tighten restrictions on third party voter registration organizations and shorten the number of early voting days. Gov. Scott also helped to pass a ban on felon voting rights, forcing non-violent offenders to wait five years after completing their sentences to apply to have their rights restored. The Florida Legislature also passed new laws that makes it tougher for ‘get-out-the-vote’ groups to register new voters and reduces the number of early voting days from 14 to 8.
“As we reflect on the history and series of events that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we must remain vigilant and on guard against potential policies that may undermine minority participation and diminish African-Americans’ political representation.”