August 28, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. We, as a nation, are proud of the progress made. However, it is still disheartening to see the continuous fight for voting rights, one of the core goals of the 1963 March, the civil rights movement and the foundation of the country’s democracy.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court ruled that Section 4 of the Act, which contained the formula to determine which jurisdictions would be subjected to the pre-clearance condition of Section 5, was unconstitutional. Justices ruled that Section 5, which required certain states with a history of discrimination to obtain the Department of Justice permission prior to making any changes to the state’s voting law, as essentially unenforceable. This decision caused a 50-year upset of a well-established practice of fair voting.
Furthermore, the decision cleared the way for Texas and Mississippi, states that used to be covered under Section 5 of the Act, to have their strict voter identification laws go into effect. Following their footsteps is North Carolina’s governor, who signed a major election reform package on August 12, 2013, which includes a strict voter ID law, as well as changes to early voting, same-day registration and pre-registration.
These new voting laws no longer target black voters as in 1963. These laws suppress the votes of millions of poor people, the elderly, and students, who are eligible citizens and who also have a constitutional right to vote. Knowing the effect these laws have on citizens, Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the Justice Department would take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box no matter where it occurs.
“We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement.” He stated that, “we will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.” As a result, the Justice Department sued Texas claiming that the new voter identification law discriminates against minority voters.
It is clear that the right to vote has not changed since 1963. While the Supreme Court appears to be unwelcoming and adamant to any claims of voting discrimination, it is going to take more than just aggressive lawsuits by the Justice Department to maintain the American peoples’ voting rights. What is needed is a more robust approach that would require Congress to enforce the improvement of states voting registration databases and by making voters registration easier and more accessible.
The 250,000 people that marched on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963 for jobs and equal rights for all, including voting rights,
recognized and comprehended that it takes a movement of people to overturn state laws that disenfranchise voters. Fifty years ago both the Congress and the courts heard the voice of these marchers. Now 50 years later, we need another march, this time in all states in order for the voice of the people to be heard by our leaders.