The right to vote is considered a fundamental principle of American democracy, but ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election, the issue of voter suppression has resurfaced.
In recent years, barriers to early voting and voter registration, for example, have become an increasingly serious concern for civil rights groups, having made a lasting impact on the situation in the country.
A new analysis from the Brennan Center Center for Justice has found that between 2016 and 2018, U.S. counties with a previous history of voter discrimination had been purging voters from the rolls at a much higher rate than in other parts of the country.
The study showed that within the two years, at least 17 million voters were purged in those areas – 40 percent above the national average.
The acceleration of voter purges and voter suppression began with the Shelby County v. Holder decision, a 2013 landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Shelby Decision
According to the decision, the so-called “pre-clearance,” the process where certain states are required to seek U.S. Department of Justice approval for all changes related to voting, can be bypassed. In addition, the two sections – number 5 and number 4(b) – from the American Voting Rights Act that defined it, were found unconstitutional.
If the VRA was introduced to decrease discriminatory practices that restrict the voting rights of black, brown, Native American and Asian people, the Shelby decision gives more power to states and local government to revert back to those practices.
“The right to vote is a central principle and a bedrock of our democracy,” said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy in a statement Tuesday to remember the anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Yet across the country, there are concerted efforts to prevent and discourage Americans from voting, particularly targeted at disenfranchising people of color and others who are most marginalized,” he added.
Voting rights advocates in 35 cities around the country held candle-lit vigils Tuesday evening to shed light on the impact of the Shelby decision and demand that Congress restore the voting rights protections in the VRA.
The VRA is still considered a landmark federal legislation in the U.S., and the U.S. Department of Justice has acknowledged it as the most effective step to boost civil rights ever taken in the country.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act
HRC has renewed calls for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4), which would ensure the voting rights of all Americans.
The Advancement Act was introduced by Representative Terry Sewell early this year, and it will develop a process to determine which states and localities with a recent history of voting rights violations must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice.
“Full equality will not be achieved until we halt the systematic efforts to restrict access to the ballot box, disenfranchise voters and undermine our democracy,” concluded Stacy.
In Washington, D.C., around 50 people gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial for a vigil on Tuesday to raise awareness and support for the Voting Rights Advancement Act before the new hearing for it scheduled for this fall.
Participants of the vigil, including such nonprofit organizations as the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia, the Franciscan Action Network, People for the American Way, National Council of Jewish Women and Democracy is for People, brought banners with direct messages,: “I am witness for justice,” “protect my vote” and “Money out, voters in!”
The meeting started with a minute of silence in memory of people killed in the recent mass shootings, and it ended with candles lighting for democracy.
In order to make sure that every citizen has the ability, the knowledge of the voting process and the access to the polls, non-partisan organizations help voters in different ways, from registering them to vote online to providing information about different candidates.
“We are gathering today for the anniversary of the voting rights act and some of those provisions have been stripped away by the Supreme Court; there’s a large percentage of the American population that doesn’t vote at all, they are not engaged, and some of that is due to the barriers,” Jason Miller, Franciscan Action Network Director of Campaigns and Development, told The Globe Post.
“We have to increase access to the ballot but also just engage people on an educational level, make sure they are aware of what is going on.”
In addition to the work of the Franciscan Action Network, The League of Women Voters encourages the informed and active participation in government as well as increasing citizens’ understanding of major public policy issues. It has been doing it for almost a century, working in all 50 states and in more than 700 communities, registering new voters, hosting community forums and debates, and providing voters with election information they need.
“We are still making sure that every eligible citizen is registered to vote, has enough information to make wise choices at the polls and get to the polls. A hundred years after the organization was founded, we are still working on that,” Katy Chiron, President of the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia told The Globe Post.
Chiron said empowering voters to defend democracy, as well as the main goals of her organization regarding registration, education and voter turnout, is important because “democracy is contagious in a way,” and is too important not to fight for.