A crowning achievement of the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, was pushing through the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recognizing the history of racist attempts to prevent Black people from voting, that federal law forced a number of southern states and districts to adhere to federal guidelines allowing citizens access to the polls.
But in 2013 the Supreme Court effectively gutted many of these protections. As a result, states are finding new ways to stop more and more people—especially African-Americans and other likely Democratic voters—from reaching the polls.
Several states are requiring government-issued photo IDs—like drivers licenses—to vote even though there’s no evidence of the voter fraud this is supposed to prevent. But there’s plenty of evidence that these ID measures depress voting, especially among communities of color, young voters, and lower-income Americans.
Alabama, after requiring photo IDs, has practically closed driver’s license offices in counties with large percentages of black voters. Wisconsin requires a government-issued photo ID but hasn’t provided any funding to explain to prospective voters how to secure those IDs.
Other states are reducing opportunities for early voting.
And several state legislatures—not just in the South—are gerrymandering districts to reduce the political power of people of color and Democrats, and thereby guarantee Republican control in Congress.
We need to move to the next stage of voting rights—a new Voting Rights Act—that renews the law that was effectively repealed by the conservative activists on the Supreme Court.
That new Voting Rights Act should also set minimum national standards—providing automatic voter registration when people get driver’s licenses, allowing at least 2 weeks of early voting, and taking districting away from the politicians and putting it under independent commissions.
Voting isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. And that right is too important to be left to partisan politics. We must not allow anyone’s votes to be taken away.