Upon the introduction today of the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) in both the House and the Senate, Bend the Arc wrote members of Congress in support of this crucial legislation. The introduction of the bills coincided with the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision which invalidated the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) which this legislation aims to restore.
On June 24, 2015, the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) was introduced in the both the Senate and the House. The introduction of the bills coincided with the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision which invalidated the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In its decision, the Court recognized that racial discrimination in voting continues to plague our electoral system, and called on Congress to revisit the enforcement scheme in the Act to ensure that it responds to current conditions.
I urge you to support this important bill. The VRAA responds to the Court’s directive and provides key protections against voting discrimination to compensate for the loss of Section 4 of the VRA, the provision that sets out the formula under which states are covered by the preclearance requirement.
The VRAA has received broad and vocal support from the civil rights community because it responds to the unique, modern-day challenges of voting discrimination that have evolved in the 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was first passed. The VRAA recognizes that changing demographics require tools that protect voters nationwide and requires that jurisdictions make voting changes public and transparent.
As the largest national Jewish organization focused exclusively on domestic policy, Bend the Arc also supports the VRAA because there is something not only quintessentially American, but also quintessentially Jewish, about voting. Voting is a ritual, part of belonging to the community. American Jews have always valued our right to vote. As our ancestors fled pogroms and persecution, those who came here found a country where, even if they were not always welcome or even fully protected under the law, they nonetheless had a legal right to exist, pursue their own affairs, and be part of our political system at the basic level. We draw inspiration not only from our ancestors, but from the Jewish leaders of our time—those who marched on Washington, those who participate in election protection today—and from our sages of old. “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted,” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 55a) our rabbis taught, and in our nation, that means the full diversity of our citizenry has the unhindered right to vote for their leaders.
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is the most successful civil rights statute ever enacted by Congress. The Act made it possible for racial minority voters across the country to participate equally in the electoral process. Because of the VRA, literacy tests, poll taxes, and other discriminatory mechanisms were invalidated. In recent years, the Act has worked to block voting practices, such as redistricting plans, registration
requirements, polling place changes, and voter ID laws that were found to be racially discriminatory.
Yet since the Supreme Court invalidated the key enforcement provision of the Act in 2013, voting discrimination has become harder to stop. In states, counties, and cities across the country, legislators have pushed through laws designed to make it harder for minorities to vote. In the lead-up to the 2014 election, a resurgence of laws to increase barriers to voting, and dilute minority voting strength, have put the right to vote in more danger than at any time in the past 50 years.
Unless Congress acts, voters in 2016 will face the first presidential election in 50 years where they will lack strong protections in federal law to combat racial discrimination in voting. Congress can no longer continue to ignore the problem of modern voting discrimination. Congress must act to restore the VRA.
Recent polling from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found that 81 percent of voters support the Voting Rights Act and 69 percent of voters want Congress to restore it. This support is widespread among voters of all races, parties, and regions of the country.
Today, Congress must fulfill its obligations under the Constitution to eradicate voting discrimination by restoring the strength and effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. Fifty years after brave Americans gave their lives for the right to vote, we cannot allow their legacy and the protections they fought for to continue to unravel.
Director, Bend the Arc Jewish Action