The US Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Within months of its approval, the law allowed hundreds of thousands of African Americans to register to vote.
But as the law turns 56 this month, supporters of the right to vote say the law faces the gravest dangers to date.
One threat is a set of restrictive voting rules adopted by Republican-controlled states across the country. The other is a Conservative-controlled Supreme Court that has steadily reduced legal protections under the law.
State legislation to limit voting rights
The Brennan Center for Justice reported that nearly 400 qualified electoral reform bills were introduced in 49 states this year. Of these bills, 30 have been enacted in 18 states.
The center said the laws would make it harder for Americans to vote. They include restrictions on postal voting and early voting. They also add more stringent voter identification requirements and make it easier for some voters to opt out.
Democrats have called the new laws a form of voter suppression. In Texas, Democratic lawmakers even left the state to prevent the Republican majority from voting.
US President Joe Biden has criticized the bills as an attack on hard-won voting rights. Speaking from Philadelphia in July, Biden said, “Jim Crow’s assault on the 21st century is real.” The term referred to the racial race of the 19th and 20th centuries. segregation laws. It is now used to describe voter suppression movements.
Republican officials behind the laws say they are meant to prevent fraud and restore public confidence in the elections. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said of the state’s new electoral law: “Georgia will take a step closer to to assure our elections are secure, accessible and fair. “
The US Constitution does not guarantee everyone the right to vote. Black men first gained the right to vote, after the Civil War, with the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. But some southern states still restricted the right to vote by requiring them to pay taxes or pass a vote. literacy test, sparking a long struggle for civil rights.
A major milestone in the movement came on March 7, 1965. On that day, a group of 600 activists led by John Lewis marched from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital, Montgomery, to register black voters. . They were violently assaulted by the police. Footage of the incident known as “Bloody Sunday” was televised across the country. This sparked a nationwide uproar which brought support for the right to vote legislation.
Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture in the march, became a member of Congress. “It was worth the suffering of so many. It was worthy of the blood some of us gave,” Lewis said in a 2015 interview with VOA.
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson enacted the Voting Rights Act. He banned literacy tests that had made it nearly impossible for many blacks to register to vote. More importantly, it included two measures, known as Section 4 and Section 5, requiring states to seek federal approval for any changes in their voting laws and policies.
Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, now heads the National Urban League. He told VOA that the two sections “made democracy fair, equitable and impartial”.
Shelby County v. Holder
The United States Congress and Supreme Court supported the law throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court weakened the law, voting 5-4 to overturn section 4. The ruling effectively ended the requirement that states, mostly in the south, have federal approval. for any changes in their voting laws and policies.
In the 50 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “things have changed dramatically“in areas subject to the law, rendering the requirement unnecessary.
Hours after the ruling, the state of Texas announced it would immediately require photo ID to vote. This state law had been blocked under the Voting Rights Act. Soon other states did the same.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court approved two voting rules in Arizona that were not allowed under the law. The first rule rejects votes entered in the wrong vote area. The second makes it a crime for anyone other than family members or caregivers to collect a voter’s ballot.
Democrats argued that the two rules made it more difficult for minority voters to vote – in violation of Article 2. But the six conservative Supreme Court justices rejected the argument that election laws caused unnecessary problems to voters.
New laws on the right to vote
Viewing the Supreme Court as hostile to voting rights, Democrats have introduced two bills to Congress to protect the gains of the voting rights law.
John Lewis’s Advancement of Voting Rights Act would again require some regions to seek federal approval to change their voting rules.
Another law, known as the For the People Act, would create automatic voter registration across the country, restore the right to vote for felons who have served their sentences, and expand early and postal voting, among other measures. .
The Republican opposition makes it unlikely that the two proposals pass this year.
I am Jill Robbins.
Masood Farivar reported this story for VOA News. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learn English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in this story
segregation – nm the practice or policy of separating people from races, religions, etc. different from each other
(the voter) fraud – nm intentional corruption of the electoral process by voting in the wrong constituency or under a false identity
to assure – v. to make (something) certain, certain or certain
to access – nm a way to be able to use or obtain something
fracture – v. cause a crack or break-in (something hard, like a bone)
spectacular – adj. sudden and extreme
vote – nm the act of voting in an election
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