Voting Rights Act: 56 years after signing, lawmakers are struggling to find common ground

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The legislation served to protect and enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. It was enacted in response to voter suppression in the 1960s by state governments, local governments, and law enforcement, and prohibited states from denying a person the right to vote based on race or color and has banned discriminatory literacy tests.

The monumental law was prompted by a series of civil rights movements and events. Most notably, the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March in Alabama, which resulted in the attack of approximately 600 non-violent protesters by state soldiers in Selma. The events of that day have since been called “Bloody Sunday”.

After Bloody Sunday, Johnson gave a joint speech to Congress saying, “There is no constitutional problem here. The command of the Constitution is clear. There is no moral problem. right to vote in this country. ”

“Many civil rights issues are very complex and most difficult. But on this subject there cannot and should be no arguments. Every American citizen should have the same right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of this right. There is no duty that weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to guarantee that right, ”Johnson said.

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with the worst records of electoral discrimination to obtain permission from federal officials before introducing any change in vote.

Today, on the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, lawmakers at the federal and state levels are struggling to find common ground on voting rights, with many states led by the Republicans leading attacks on access to the ballot box.

Eighteen states have enacted 30 new laws that make voting more difficult, according to the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks state activity. These laws mark a new record of restrictive election laws since 2011, and many more bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country.

Georgia Republicans accelerated the enactment of an election bill in March, making it the first presidential battleground to impose new voting restrictions after President Joe Biden won the state. Georgian law shortens the length of the postal voting period and changes the identification requirements for absent voters. It also limits the way voters can be offered food and drink near a polling place.

Republican supporters of the law say critics who accuse them of “suppressing voters” misrepresent both their intentions and key provisions of the law.

“This wave of restrictions on voting – the most aggressive we have seen in more than a decade of monitoring state election laws – is largely driven by false and often racist allegations of voter fraud,” according to one article published on the Brennan Center website. .
State lawmakers in Texas have been at a stalemate since Democrats staged a late-night walkout that left the House short of quorum before passing a slew of new voting restrictions. Many of these State Democrats fled to the nation’s capital and met with Vice President Kamala Harris to protest the Texas bill.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced a second special session of the state legislature that will force Texas Democrats to decide whether to continue their standoff.

Many Democratic groups have urged the Biden administration to get involved in passing federal legislation to combat various new state laws that make voting more difficult.

Nearly 50 progressive and voting rights groups sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday, urging his administration to do more. It is the latest sign of growing frustration among activists with the White House on voting issues.

“Our organizations will continue to do everything possible to ensure that all eligible voters in our states have the resources and opportunities to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” the groups wrote. “However, our organizational capacity is not unlimited. We are facing a growing wave of voter suppression unlike anything we have seen.

“While grassroots efforts remain essential to ensure fair and representative elections, so do federal legislation aimed at protecting and preserving the rights of the constituencies we serve,” the letter continued.

White House officials maintain Biden is committed to federal legislation, but say the administration is also working on other fronts to protect access to ballots – including Harris’ high-profile efforts to elevate the question – facing the United Republican opposition on Capitol Hill. .

They note that Biden signed an executive order, promoting voter registration and access, and that the Justice Department has beefed up its staff to strengthen election law enforcement. Last month, the agency sued the Battlefield State of Georgia over its new voting restrictions.

CNN’s Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.

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