On Its 50th Anniversary, the Case for Restoring the Voting Rights Act

On Its 50th Anniversary, the Case for Restoring the Voting Rights Act

It’s been 50 years since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, guaranteeing blacks the right to vote after decades of disenfranchisement. The landmark legislation came at a crucial time in American history; the civil rights movement was in full swing and progress was slowly being made. But in 2015, voting rights are again under an unprecedented assault.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the section of the VRA requiring that certain states with a history of voter discrimination seek preclearance with the federal government before making changes to their voting laws, is no longer necessary.

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the law and Democrats are commemorating it by advocating for its renewal. The Obama administration is trying to make progress on voting rights and has been discussing strategies on how to move forward with legislators. On Thursday, the president will participate in a video teleconference with citizens to speak about the importance of restoring the law. Congressman John Lewis, who marched for voting rights in his youth and was present at the signing of the law, will join Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other voting rights advocates in calling for a restoration of the VRA in the wake of an unparalleled assault on the right to vote in recent years.

Since 2010, 22 states have made it harder to vote. In 2015, 113 bills that would restrict voting access have been introduced or carried over from last legislative session in 33 states. Next year, the presidential election will take place with 15 states enforcing stricter rules than they did during the 2012 election.

In Texas, strict laws about IDs—accepting concealed carry permits but not state-issued college IDs—have made it harder for college students (who vote for Democrats in droves) to vote. Reducing the amount of early voting days and a ban on same-day registration effectively disenfranchised thousands of North Carolinians in 2014.

Democrats have been saying that the onslaught of new voting laws is designed to make it harder for their base—racial minorities, the elderly, and young people—to vote. But Republicans claim that the new laws are intended to fight voter fraud—even though it’s nearly nonexistent.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered a turning point in the civil rights movement, signifying change in a country that had long discriminated against blacks. Now, with the 2016 presidential election season under way, Republicans want to erode that hard-won progress.