Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law, calling the day ''a triumph for freedom." The VRA was an historic achievement that changed America, ensuring that every American citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity or language, had equal access to the right to vote.
But two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the VRA. States that had once been covered by that provision were free from oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice. The result was a full frontal assault on voting rights.
Congress currently has before it various proposals to restore the protections that the Supreme Court stripped away, but Congressional leaders have ignored public calls to restore the VRA. Voter discrimination cannot be tolerated. For 95 years, the League of Women Voters has been fighting to keep the power of our democracy in the hands of the people, and we will not remain silent as the voting rights of Americans across the country remain at risk. Join us as we tell Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act.
One of the most flagrant responses to the Supreme Court's decision was an omnibus anti-voter bill passed in North Carolina and signed into law just six weeks after the Supreme Court decision. The law cut early voting opportunities by a week, eliminated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, ended the popular pre-registration program for 16 and 17 year olds, and instituted a restrictive voter photo ID requirement starting in 2016. Voting rights advocates, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, immediately challenged the law arguing that it unduly burdens the right to vote and discriminates, particularly against African Americans.
Because of its history of discriminatory voting laws, North Carolina had been among the states previously required by the VRA to get federal approval or pre-clearance before implementing any changes in its voting or elections procedures. Without these VRA safeguards, voters in North Carolina can no longer count on the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, "These measures likely would not have survived federal pre-clearance."
Voters await a decision in the trial that was held last month on our lawsuit. A federal judge is considering evidence that the North Carolina legislature knowingly discriminated in crafting and passing the omnibus anti-voter law. At issue is whether the limitations and reductions on registration and early voting violate the Fourteenth Amendment or a remaining provision of the Voting Rights Act. In just a few weeks, a separate trial will be held to determine if the voter photo ID requirement violates the state's constitution. Ultimately, the decisions in these cases will have far-reaching impacts on voter rights beyond North Carolina if the Voting Rights Act is not restored.
As he signed the VRA into law, President Johnson said, ''The heart of the act is plain: Wherever, by clear and objective standards, states and counties are using regulations... to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down." Fifty years later, voters are again awaiting action by the courts and Congress to make these words ring true.
Our nation has taken great strides in advancing equality since 1965, but voter discrimination still exists today, and minority voices are still being silenced. The civil rights activists who helped pass the Voting Rights Act 50 years ago left our country with a legacy of strength and bravery in the fight for equal rights for all. Now is the time to build on that legacy. Access to the vote is not about politics; it's about justice and equality. A strong and restored Voting Rights Act must be a key part of any solution.
The League of Women Voters has been standing its ground in the fight against discrimination and for voting rights for 95 years, and restoring the VRA is an important step to keep our elections fair, free and accessible. Join us and telling your members of Congress that the right to vote is one of the most basic rights in our country and it must be protected.