By Cash Michaels –
In 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006, the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA)—a federal law mandating that “…the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous servitude”—was amended and reauthorized by a healthy bipartisan Congressional vote by Democrats and Republicans to ensure that every eligible American, especially African Americans, had the right to vote.
At least that’s what it looked like on the surface.
Jesse H. Rhodes, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and author of the 2017 book, Ballot Blocked: The Political Erosion of the Voting Rights Act (Stanford University Press), chronicles how Republican presidents from Richard M. Nixon to present-day Donald Trump have worked behind the scenes to weaken and undermine the VRA.
“Republicans have a long history of trying to limit federal enforcement of minority voting rights. Trump is following in his predecessors’ footsteps,” Rhodes wrote in The Washington Post in 2018.
Indeed, it was a conservative-majority US Supreme Court in 2013 that struck down Section 5 of the VRA, the provisional heart of the law that mandated federal election oversight.
“In 2013, the Supreme Court struck a devastating blow to protections for minority voters across America when it invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 in its Shelby County v. Holder decision,” said Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC-1).
“The Court struck down the “preclearance” formula that gave power to Section 5 of the VRA and prohibited certain jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting from implementing election or redistricting changes that would negatively impact minority voters. Since that decision, the right to vote has been under coordinated attack in North Carolina and across the country, with at least 23 states enacting voter suppression laws, including voter purges, strict ID requirements, poll closures and curtailing of early voting hours.”
“Over the past year, as a member of the House Committee on Administration’s Subcommittee on Elections, I traveled across the country to participate in Congressional field hearings, including one in Weldon, North Carolina, to hear from witnesses about election administration and fair access to the ballot box,” Congressman Butterfield continued. “In a recently released report on these hearings, the Subcommittee confirmed the persistence of voter suppression and discrimination in voting across the country.”
“Our democracy works best when all people have equal access to the ballot box! Congress has a responsibility to #RestoreTheVOTE! #HR4,” tweeted Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC-12).
Last week, when the Democratic majority in the US House voted to once again reauthorize the VRA, known this time as “The Voting Rights Advancement Act, or HR 4, and reinstate federal oversight, only one Republican, a former FBI agent, voted along with them. The 187 other House Republicans voted against.
The bill stands little to no chance of even being taken up in the GOP-majority US Senate. In fact, the Trump White House has threatened to veto the bill if, by some magic, the Senate did pass it.
Republicans say states, not the federal government, should be in charge of enforcing election laws, and the federal protections would be abused when there is no evidence of “discriminatory behavior.”
Democrats, happy to have passed the measure, still lamented that Republicans would not join them in ensuring that all Americans had the unfettered right to cast their ballots.
“The Republican Party used to support the unfettered right to vote,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. “The party of Lincoln is gone. The party of Reagan is gone. The party of McCain is gone.”
“In the greatest democracy on earth, the path to the ballot box must be unfettered for all voters,” Rep. Butterfield says. “Congress has an obligation to address discrimination in voting, and the need to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act is clear. I am proud I helped pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act and strongly urge the Senate to take it up immediately and get it to the desk of President.”