Rep. John Lewis on the Regression of the Voting Rights in America
“Today, on the 53rd anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by President Lyndon Johnson, we celebrate a milestone in American history. With the stroke of a pen, millions of Americans were ushered into the democratic process. In 1964 in Holmes County, Mississippi, there were only twelve black registered voters. By 1965, there were 28,500, and by 1984 there were 406,000. There were only a handful of minority elected officials anywhere in the country before the VRA was signed. Today there are thousands. Millions of Latino, Asian, Native American, and language minorities can now vote in America, and many now serve as elected officials because of this one law.
“Though an increase in voter registration is frequently used to demonstrate the VRA’s impact, increasing the voter rolls was not the central purpose of the legislation. It was intended to stop state-sponsored terrorism, intimidation, and unjust, humiliating practices—literacy tests, poll taxes, and even lynching—which led people of color to fear registering and voting on Election Day. Even Chief Justice Roberts admitted in his fateful opinion in the Shelby v. Holder decision that voting discrimination still runs rampant in America. Yet the Supreme Court put politics before the facts and gutted the VRA anyway.
“Since the Shelby decision, voter discrimination is on the rise. Thousands of people of color are being systematically denied access to the ballot box, many of whom have voted all their lives. In a recent Brennan Center for Justice Report, it focused on the purging of voter rolls, just one of several voter suppression tactics now in use. Brennan called purging “a growing threat” to voting rights and discovered that in 2016 more than 200,000 names had been improperly deleted from voter rolls in Brooklyn, and 7,700 in Arkansas. Thousands of citizens were wrongfully denied the right to vote in the last election. Between 2014 and 2016, Brennan found almost 4 million names were “purged” from the voting rolls.
“As the election of 2016 proves, just a few thousand votes can change the future of our nation. There are forces that want to drain public resources and put them in the pockets of private interests, want to serve only the rich, and disregard the will of the people. Your vote has the power to stop those strategies, and that is why it is at risk.
“There are two immediate answers to this problem. Americans must vote in this election like never before. And Congress must also act to restore the VRA to its original strength. Several bipartisan proposals have already been drafted. Congress should make our democracy a priority and take action on these proposals before the election of 2018, but especially before the election of 2020. The vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have for change in a democratic society. The power of people to have a voice in their own future must be protected at all costs.”