By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA News Wire Contributing Writer)
Election day November 8, 2016 will be the first Presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Against the backdrop of a cavalcade of court cases over new state laws that have made it more difficult to vote, members of Congress have decided to focus more attention on the issue. Amid thin evidence, if any at all, Republicans continue to argue that new voter ID laws have been enacted to combat voter fraud.
“There are more examples of shark attacks in the United States and exploding toilets than there was of voter fraud,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) as he stood alongside other members to announce the new caucus.
On May 24 outside the U.S. Capitol, a dozen members of Congress announced the formation of a new Congressional Caucus on Voting Rights. Over 50 members have already joined the new Caucus.
They were joined by civil rights Attorney Barbara Arnwine, the former Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law from 1989 to 2015. Arnwine is now the president and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition.
The new Congressional Voting Rights Caucus was formally launched by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), who was instrumental in raising awareness about the restrictive Texas voting rights law that has put up several barriers to make it more difficult to vote.
Veasey was joined by Congressional Black Caucus Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C) along with Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) who represents Selma, Alabama, Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) also spoke on the importance of the new Caucus.
“Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus is answering the call to protect and restore the right to vote for every U.S. citizen,” read Rep. Veasey’s release announcing the caucus.
Talking with reporters the members were blunt and pointed on the issue.
“Here we are in the 21st century and here we are still talking about trying to open the door to people who want to vote. It is hard to believe that there are people who are still trying to suppress the vote but that is the reality,” said Rep. Becerra, a member of the House Democratic leadership.
“It is a shame that in 2016 we still need a caucus,” said Rep. Sewell, who will be the co-chair the caucus.
“This is long overdue,” said Rep. Butterfield. Butterfield, a former voter rights attorney and state Supreme Court judge in North Carolina, delivered a historic and legal overview of the situation.
“The year was 1965 August 6, a few days after I finished high school. The Voting Rights Act was passed by the House and the Senate and signed by President Johnson,” said Butterfield.
Butterfield added that the Voting Rights Act created Section 2, which is universal in its application and applied to every community in America and it also gives minority communities the right to bring lawsuits, if they feel their vote is being diluted
“In addition to that, the Voting Rights Act eliminated literacy tests,” which were used to deny the right to vote of thousands and thousands of African Americans, Butterfield said.
“Section 5 doesn’t apply to every county in America, only those who have a history of discrimination. Section 5 signaled out certain jurisdictions using a certain formula to get the Justice Department to pre-clear and election changes before they could take effect,” Butterfield concluded.
That is, until the U.S. Supreme Court under the guidance of Chief John Roberts gutted the law and removed Section 5. On June 25, 2013 the Supreme Court declared that formula in Section 4 was “outdated.”
“What has happened since that change? Nothing. Crickets,” Butterfield said as he spoke on congressional non-action after the Supreme Court ruled.
With Donald Trump as the likely Republican nominee and a reported surge in Hispanic voter registration, the issue of ease of voting, Sunday voting, and voter ID is a vital one. This year, one third of the total electorate will be minority voters. In swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, voter ID laws can impact the margin of victory.
Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.