By Mary Kate Cary |
Voting rights matter. They are a major part of who we are as Americans. Throughout our nation's history, the right to vote has been expanded by Constitutional amendments and legislation. For decades, civil rights activists fought tirelessly to ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans. Major strides were made with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a historic civil rights law which ensured that the right to vote not be denied on account of race or color.
Sadly, voter suppression is not a thing of the past. This summer, voting rights in the state of Texas and across America suffered a major setback. Following a recent Supreme Court decision to gut a key provision in the Voting Rights Act, states across the country began implementing previously prohibited measures to restrict the right to vote.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional. Soon after the Shelby decision 11 of the 15 states previously required to clear any voting law changes with the Justice Department began introducing voting bills that would make voting harder for minorities, the poor and the elderly.
The data show that the Texas law could have prevented nearly 795,000 predominately black and Hispanic voters from casting ballots in the 2012 election. In Texas, concealed handgun licenses would be accepted as valid voter ID, but student IDs would not. Individuals without access to proper identification would be forced to travel great distances to obtain identification, at a significant cost to eligible voters.
Our history has proven, time and time again, that federal vigilance and intervention is essential in protecting the right to vote. The U.S. Department of Justice had no choice but to file a lawsuit to intervene in Texas and safeguard Americans' voting rights. This lawsuit is just another step in preserving equal protection under the law.
This action signals to all states that the Department of Justice is not going to freely allow the Supreme Court's recent decision to be "interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights."
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August 1965, he described the law as a "triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield." Let us not return to the old battlefield where so many shed blood and tears for the right to vote. Instead let us move forward to an era where all eligible Americans have equal access to the ballot box and have the freedom to vote for the candidate of their choosing. It is, after all, what our nation was founded upon: Democracy.
About Marc Veasey Democratic Representative from Texas
Natasha M. Korgaonkar Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund
Trey Martinez Fischer Democratic Representative in the Texas State House