I was in Washington DC on August 28th. I made the trip from Southold to Washington to show my support for the passage of a federal law that would restore critical protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. According to the Justice Department, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is “the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress.” They have good reason to say this since it allowed thousands of Black voters to vote in the segregated South of the 1960s. Allowing many Black and brown voters access to the ballot box could only be accomplished if the federal government stepped in to make sure that states were following the law and not interfering with the voting rights of their citizens. The Act of 1965 did the following:
- Helped to remove literacy tests, poll taxes which prevented many people of color from registering to vote.
- It investigated incidents of violence.
- It granted the attorney general the power to send observers to witness elections.
- Allowed the federal government the authority to preapprove voting and election changes in places with a history of discrimination.
The Voting Rights Act had enlarged the political sphere allowing thousands of Black and brown voters to go to the ballot box. In the years following its passage, Bipartisan majorities in Congress reauthorized the Act five times – the last time was in 2006.
I was in Washington DC on August 28th because times have changed, and this landmark law no longer enjoys bipartisan support. Much of the Act’s core enforcement powers are gone because of two Supreme Court decisions – Shelby County v. Holder(2013) and the recent case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021). These two decisions have emboldened states. Almost 400 bills that would restrict voting access have been introduced in 47 states. These bills aim to:
- Limit mail-in voting
- Strengthening voter I.D. laws
- Shortening early voting
- Eliminating automatic and same-day voter registration
- Curbing the use of ballot drop boxes
- Allowing for increased purging of voter rolls.
The decision in this last case – Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee – upset many and led to a call to action. It set in motion marches across the nation, including the one in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963.
I was in Washington DC on August 28th because it is crucial to raise awareness and rally support for legislation to override the Supreme Court and update the Voting Rights Act. The House has passed bills that would restore the federal government’s enforcement powers at the ballot box, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – named after the late Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and Civil Rights leader. But the chances for the bill to be passed into law are slim. Current Senate rules require 60 votes to pass. The 50 Democrats in the Senate would need 10 Republicans to advance any voting measures.
I was in Washington DC on August 28th because of the sheer urgency of this moment in history. Voting rights have not been under siege like this since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. We must all realize that democracy is not a spectator sport. Until all the barriers to voting guaranteed in our Constitution are equally applied to all U.S. citizens, we must fight to end this injustice. Congress must intervene and pass laws to ensure this sacred right and that all citizens have unencumbered access to the ballot box and can vote.