By Terri A. Sewell
In the four years following the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, there have been an increasing number of court rulings that have had major consequences for voting rights in this country. In most of these cases, a clear fact pattern was at the heart of the legal question being argued: was their overt or covert bias or discrimination in the efforts of those implementing new voting rights measures (i.e. the state) that caused harm to a group of voters?
In a majority of the findings by the courts the answer was yes, there was bias on the part of those implementing the voting changes that disenfranchised minority communities in accessing the ballot. Specifically in the North Carolina 4th Circuit case in 2016, the court found that there was “almost surgical precision” used to limit African American’s access to the vote.
We should not be surprised by this uptick in cases involving voter suppression. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which dismantled the preclearance formula, 33 states have instituted some form of new photo ID law, and others such as North Carolina have engaged in suppressive gerrymandering efforts imposing “cures for problems that did not exist” concerning the myth of voter fraud. Most recently, the President of the United States even adopted the mantle of “voter fraud” in announcing a national tax-payer funded effort to research the issue.
When we assess all of these efforts aimed at voting, it begs the question – why don’t we want people to vote? Why would legislators make voting harder, not easier for the American people? The right to vote should not be about partisan agendas. Speaking out against the injustice of voter suppression of his constituents, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from the 5th Congressional District of Wisconsin, declared that “[e]nsuring that every eligible voter can cast a ballot without fear, deterrence and prejudice is a basic American right. I would rather lose my job than suppress votes to keep it.”
Our nation was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those who cannot vote are deprived of these principles and we therefore must not be silent on this matter. We all must stand up as Americans to honor the principles this great country was founded on. This is not a partisan issue, this is an American issue. People fought, bled and died for us all to have the freedoms we enjoy, including the right to vote.
It took protesters from across the country converging on my hometown of Selma, Alabama, being beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and marching 50 long miles to the state capital in Montgomery, to bring about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Since its signing, the VRA has been signed into law by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, who clearly understood the affirming importance of this seminal piece of legislation. And yet, old battles have become new again.
Taking into consideration the Supreme Court’s finding in Shelby that a modern day formula was needed to redress voting discrimination; I introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) of 2015, which provides a process for assessing states with a track record of suppressive voting practices over the past 25 years. Today, June 22, 2017, I will reintroduce the VRAA in this current session of Congress, and I continue to call on all my colleagues to join with me in helping pass this important piece of legislation.
It is time that we restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because one instance of denial of one’s voting right is one too many.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) is serving her fourth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional district. She sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was recently appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Sewell is a Chief Deputy Whip and serves on the prestigious Steering and Policy Committee of the Democratic Caucus. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, serves as Vice Chair of Outreach for the New Democrat Coalition, and as Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus.