We Vote, We Count: The Need for Congressional Action to Secure the Right to Vote for All Citizens
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The United States has historically limited access to the ballot and enacted laws that disenfranchised people of color. Paradoxically, the country was founded as a democracy, yet forces have constantly sought to suppress the electoral efforts of people of color. The federal government has periodically responded with hard-fought and long-awaited federal voting rights protections that were necessary for democracy to prevail. One of the most effective pieces of legislation was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA or “the Act”), which provided access to the ballot for people of color and required segregation’s forces to seek federal approval of voting changes prior to implementation. Nonetheless, structural racism remains pervasive not just throughout the South but the entire United States. The VRA continues to be necessary for combating widespread voter suppression, which includes, but is not limited to, registration restrictions and penalties against voter registration drives, voter purges, redistricting, reduction in polling places, restrictive voter ID laws, exorbitant fees for formerly incarcerated people to re-register, and proof of citizenship laws. Communities of color, in large scale, bear the brunt of voter suppression. Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI), African American, Hispanic and American Indian communities from sea to shining sea have felt the pain of voter suppression. Over the past 75 years, rising political participation among voters of color, along with increasing immigration, has motivated states to implement voter suppression measures. This phenomenon is not new, but reflects similar trends occurring during Reconstruction and the pre-Civil War era. Current efforts to diminish and disenfranchise people of color during this and other important times in our country’s history are not accidents, but a pervasive and effective strategy to prevent or dissuade people of color from freely participating in the political process. Without question, these attempts and successes to suppress the vote resemble practices of voter suppression during the civil rights era, prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act. A notable blow to federal efforts to curb suppression occurred in 2013, when the United States Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder found parts of the VRA unconstitutional. Since Shelby, states and other jurisdictions have implemented modern methods of disenfranchisement that are far-reaching and have real impact on communities of color and their ability to access the franchise.