Help Protect Voting Rights
“…Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…”. —–Martin Luther King, Jr.
Voting is a cherished right. Countless brave people gave up their lives to secure that right. Federal law guarantees it. There have been reports across the country of efforts being made to shrink the pool of Americans who will be able to vote in the years ahead. In thirty-eight (38) states and counting, strict new voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting and Sunday voting, and racially motivated bans on ex-felons have either been passed or proposed.
As was aptly stated by President Johnson when discussing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” With that knowledge, yesterday, tens of thousands of people rallied at the Stand for Freedom mobilization in New York City to stand up against the forces trying to block the right to vote for millions. The persons in attendance at that event understand that, if we, as citizens, do not take action to stop restrictions on voting, no one will.
Voting is the one right that practically defines a democracy. The right to vote is one of the cornerstones of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, during periods of history in America, millions of this nation’s citizens were denied this most precious right based on an immutable characteristic such as race. In the century following Reconstruction, African-Americans in the South faced overwhelming obstacles to vote. Despite the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which had enfranchised black men and women, southern voter registration boards used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other bureaucratic impediments to deny African-Americans their legal rights. Southern blacks also risked harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and physical violence when they tried to register or vote. Elsewhere, other minorities also suffered this type of discrimination. As a result, African-Americans and other people of color had little if any political power, either locally or nationally. It took the courageous civil rights movement to put an end to this discrimination.
In response voter discrimination, the Voting Rights Act was adopted initially in 1965 and extended in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006. The Act made it a federal crime to deny a citizen the right to vote. It outlawed a number of tricks and schemes used for decades to disenfranchise African-Americans. No longer could racists in state governments use literacy tests, poll taxes, and other devices to keep African-Americans from registering to vote. The Voting Rights Act also allowed the federal government to oversee voter registration and elections in places where discrimination occurred. The Act has been described by Irving Bernstein as “a rare and glittering moment in the history of American democracy.”
The Voting Rights Act has often been referred to as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress. The Voting Rights Act codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment’s permanent guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. In addition, the Act contains several special provisions that impose even more stringent requirements in certain jurisdictions throughout the country.
Voting is a cherished right. Now, it’s up to each of us to protect the right to vote and to make our vote count.
Source(s): US Department of Justice. NAACP. Stand For Freedom. Brainy Quotes website.