It’s one of the many milestones of a storied legacy in fighting for racial and civic equality.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the result of the work of civil rights activists in the South and of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who sacrificed themselves in order for this law to be put in place. The law helped outlaw literacy tests and poll taxes as a means of assessing whether a person was fit to vote.
But now, voters’ rights are under attack from political conservatives across the country. Five decades later, it looks like the fight has just begun.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked a South Carolina law that would have required voters to present photo identification at polling stations on the grounds that the law would disproportionately affect minority voters.
Because of its history with racial discrimination, South Carolina is one of the states that falls under the Voting Rights Act and must obtain pre-clearance from the Justice Department to make any changes to its voting requirements; the department must certify that the laws aren’t discriminatory in their impact, not just in theit intent. The majority of registered voters in that state without photo IDs are young, Black and poor and tend to vote Democrat.
“The absolute number of minority citizens whose exercise of the franchise could be adversely affected by the proposed requirements runs into the tens of thousands,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez in a letter to South Carolina legislators in December.
Back in August of 2010, with the help of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Senate passed an anti-prison gerrymandering bill that counts people in prison as residents of their home communities for the purposes of redrawing district lines rather than the districts in which they are incarcerated.
In the past, the state had used non-voting prison populations to bulk up district populations upstate, which tend to vote Republican, awarding greater legislative representation to districts that contain prisons at the expense of the communities that most incarcerated people call home. According to numbers released by Schneiderman’s camp last year, one Assembly district in New York had 7 percent of its “residents” in prison.
Last month, the New York Daily News reported that state Senate Republicans were considering adding a 63rd state Senate seat in hopes of keeping their majority, with a potential new district being created in the Republican-heavy areas around Albany. Assemblyman Keith Wright spoke with the AmNews in December about the situation.
“Obviously, the GOP is running scared with Obama heading into the election in 2012, and they don’t feel as if they can keep a hold of a Republican-controlled Senate,” said Wright. “So they are trying to seize and conceptualize another seat in order to hold on. I think they probably read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and some other fantasies and fiction over the summer in order to come up with this plan.”
The fights are local and national. Some saw Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision realized in President Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House, but it looks like his presidency has awakened the fight against some of the gains made by King’s vision. It’s a fight that doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon.