Hundreds Gather in Roanoke for Voting Rights and Democracy

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On June 25, hundreds of concerned citizens rallied in Roanoke, Va., to mark the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. At the rally, advocates from more than 25 civil rights and voting rights organizations urged Congress to restore the voting protections lost in Shelby.

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Attendees put pressure on Roanoke’s longtime Congressman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to hold a hearing on legislation to restore the VRA. Goodlatte was a vocal supporter of the VRA when it was last reauthorized in 2006, but now says that voter discrimination doesn’t exist and a restored VRA isn’t needed.

Participating organizations published numerous op-eds and statements in the lead-up to the rally:

Local and national media coverage of the rally:

This Texas Voter’s Story Will Convince You it’s Time to #RestoreTheVRA

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The day before the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s destructive Shelby County v. Holder decision – and on the day lawmakers introduced a new bill to fix it – the Campaign Legal Center released a short, three-minute film highlighting how one state in particular is restricting access to the ballot box.

The film features Tony, an engineer who came to Texas to attend the University of Houston. Tony changed his last name in 1964 after his parents were married and has voted in every election he’s been able to, but with Texas’s new restrictive voting law, he’s barred from voting because he can’t prove his identity.

In the film, Abbie Kamin, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, tells Tony, “As the law stands now, based on your circumstances, you may not ever be able to vote.”

“This is about the state of Texas using taxpayer dollars to implement the most restrictive photo ID law in the country that is intentionally used to suppress minority and low-income voters,” Kamin says.

In a statement, Gerry Hebert, executive director of Campaign Legal Center, said, “Tony’s deeply troubling story puts a very human face on the impact of a heartless law that disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Texans, and intentionally and disproportionately stripped the right to vote from minority voters.”

Tony feels that heartlessness very strongly.

“I’m living in a country that doesn’t want me, and that is an awful feeling. So it goes beyond a simple 2014 election,” Tony says. “It’s a deep-seated thing. It’s feeling like you’re in a place physically, but they don’t want you to be part of it.”

Watch his story here:

Advocates to Rally in Roanoke for Voting Rights and Democracy on Shelby Anniversary

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Rep. Goodlatte and Congress Urged to Restore the Voting Rights Act

For Immediate Release
Contact: Scott Simpson, 202.466.2061, simpson@civilrights.org
June 16, 2015

ROANOKE— On Thursday, June 25, hundreds of concerned Americans will join civil rights and voting rights advocates in Roanoke, Virginia’s Elmwood Park to mark the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. Attendees will rally to defend the right to vote and to support a restoration of the Voting Rights Act. The rally will be attended by a large contingent of Roanoke-area residents who will be joined by buses and vans from Richmond and Tidewater, Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

Quote from Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

“In this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, voters are more vulnerable to discrimination than at any time since the law was first passed in 1965. Congressional leadership has yet to act on restoring the law and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who represents part of Roanoke and chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has yet to take action to protect voters from discrimination in Virginia and throughout the nation.

“Despite public outcry since the Shelby decision, Rep. Goodlatte has refused to even acknowledge widespread voting discrimination or to allow a hearing in his committee. Virginians currently live under racially gerrymandered districts; they understand that protecting voting rights for all means holding Congress and Rep. Goodlatte accountable for ignoring the responsibility to act.”

Participating organizations include the following national organizations alongside their state and local chapters: The Leadership Conference, Democracy Initiative, NAACP, NAACP Voter Fund, Communications Workers of America, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Human Rights Campaign, Common Cause, Sierra Club, Asian Americans Advancing Justice—AAJC, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Japanese American Citizens League, LULAC, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, League of Women Voters, NALEO, AFT, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Black Justice Coalition, National Action Network, People for the American Way, AFL-CIO, National LGBTQ Task Force, SEIU, and others.

Media can RSVP to Scott Simpson at Simpson@civilrights.org. Members of the media from the DC, Richmond, Tidewater, areas are welcome to travel to Roanoke with rally participants.

More information is available at www.VRAforToday.org.

Rally Details:

WHERE: Elmwood Park in Roanoke, Virginia

WHEN: Thursday, June 25 – Pre-Rally Program begins at 12:00pm / Rally begins at 1:00pm

Confirmed Speakers Include [List in Formation]:

  • Wade Henderson, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Arturo Vargas, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund
  • Priscilla Ouchida, Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL)
  • Cornell William Brooks, NAACP
  • Larry Cohen, CWA
  • Stosh Cotler, Bend the Arc
  • Brenda Hale, Roanoke Branch, NAACP
  • Tanya Clay House, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Rev. William Barber, NAACP
  • Rev. Leslie Malachi, African American Ministers in Action, People for the American Way
  • VA State Senator John Edwards
  • Aaron Mair, Board President, Sierra Club
  • Miles Rapoport, Common Cause
  • Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality
  • Hector Sanchez, Hispanic Leadership Council/LCLAA
  • Sindy Benevidez, LULAC
  • Terry Ao Minnis, Asian Americans Advancing Justice / AAJC
  • Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO
  • Rabbi Kathy Cohen, Temple Emmanuel, Roanoke
  • Rabbi Michael Namath, Religious Action Center
  • Janaye Ingraham, National Action Network
  • J. Walter Tejada, Arlington Co. Board Vice Chairman
  • Rebecca Shankman, League of Women Voters of VA and Roanoke, VA
  • Kirk Jones, A. Phillip Randolph Institute (APRI) VA
  • Tom Calhoun, Norfolk Federation of Teachers
  • Dana Jackson, Blue Ridge Independent Living Center, National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
  • Javontae McNear, VA NAACP Youth and College Division

Republicans applaud the courage of Selma, but will they commit to restoring its legacy?

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Last weekend, more than 20 Republican lawmakers traveled to Selma, Ala., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march that spurred the nation to pass the Voting Rights Act and many more took to social media to salute the marchers who braved discrimination and violent brutality to demand their right to vote.

Since the VRA was gutted by the Supreme Court, new efforts to suppress the vote have left our country with the most discriminatory voting landscape in half a century.

“Words alone will not restore the legacy of Selma,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Commemoration requires legislation. We urge all members of Congress who made the trip, and who learned the value of voting rights in this country, to take action.”

Several Republican lawmakers who traveled to Selma expressed their willingness to support or consider supporting legislation to restore the VRA. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told a reporter that “because of this trip, I will be more interested,” while Sen. Susan Collins of Maine penned a column about her pilgrimage to Selma, and said that the trip will lead her to take a closer look at the Supreme Court’s VRA decision. In the House, Rep. Tom Reed of New York committed to co-sponsoring a VRA fix.

Below is a selection of statements and social media posts from Republican congressional leadership and other members who traveled to Selma. Now that these lawmakers have applauded the bravery that made the law possible, will they, too, commit to working to restore the VRA to honor the legacy of the Selma marchers?

House Speaker John Boehner

Guided by their determination, inspired by their courage, and moved by their call for justice, let us honor their sacrifice by rededicating ourselves to the cause of freedom and equal opportunity for every American,” said Boehner in a statement.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

In a statement, McConnell said “We honor those who marched that day, and we recommit ourselves to the task of building a society in which all men and women are treated equally.”

U.S. Representatives:

Tom Emmer

“It was an honor to stand side-by-side with my colleagues in Selma this weekend. The beauty of the American system is that we are a nation of laws, and everyone deserves equal protection under them,” said Emmer in a statement.

Bradley Byrne

 

Kevin Yoder

 

Mike Kelly

“Fifty years ago, a generation of the 20th century’s bravest Americans fought for something they should never have had to fight for: basic freedom and equality before law,” said Mike Kelly.

Gary Palmer

“Men and women of all races stood up, against scorn, intimidation, and violence to uphold the truth of an idea that was laid out by America’s founders in the Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,’” said Gary Palmer.

Martha Roby  

 

French Hill

“I hope all Americans took a moment this weekend and reflected on the lasting achievements of Rep. Lewis and his fellow Civil Rights leaders,” said Hill.

Curt Lawson  

Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Barbara Comstock

Comstock issued a statement following her visit to Selma, saying that it gave her insight into the trials African Americans went through during the Civil Rights movement.

Will Hurd  

U.S. Senators:

Ted Cruz

“Though injustices still pervade our neighborhoods and cities, we celebrate how far we’ve come. And we remain committed to bending the arc towards justice,” said Cruz in a statement.

Tim Scott

Scott issued a statement in advance of his pilgrimage to Selma, and tweeted his support for restoring the Voting Rights Act:  

Rand Paul

 

Pat Toomey

Deb Fischer  

Jeff Denham

 

Roy Blunt

James Lankford  

Jeff Sessions

After Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Selma marchers, Sessions issued a statement, saying, “This dramatic event captured the attention of the nation, led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and was a key event in ending the systematic denial of the right of African-American citizens to vote in many areas.”

Richard Shelby

Richard Burr

Burr also tweeted about awarding the Congressional Medal to the Selma marchers:  

‘Selma’ Star Says Strong VRA Still Needed Today

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Director Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” has only been released in select theaters in the United States, but the portrayal of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) has already garnered significant attention and prompted conversations about the film’s contemporary relevance.

“Selma” follows the battle for voting rights in 1965, a time when – despite the recently passed Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Jim Crow discrimination was still very real, and African Americans were routinely denied the right to vote through poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation. The film centers on the setbacks, violence, and intimidation that civil rights activists faced in their demonstrations and during their historic march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery – efforts that ultimately resulted in the passage of the VRA.

Although King and civil rights advocates were successful in pushing for federal legislation to protect the right to vote, the battle for voting rights is not over. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted crucial protections of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder, some of the very same voting protections for which King and other activists fought so hard. Since the Shelby decision, many state legislatures have passed discriminatory voting restrictions, such as restrictive voter ID laws and the elimination of early voting.

In a recent interview with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, “Selma” star David Oyelowo, who plays King, discussed the film’s relevance to today’s attacks on the fundamental right to vote, saying, “the lie, again, that’s being told is that the reason to take Section 5 out of the Voting Rights Act, which was won during this campaign, is because the country has changed so much that you no longer need federal rules to dictate what certain states can and cannot have by way of how you can vote. Well you only have to watch this film and juxtapose it with Ferguson to see that yes, things have changed, but not that much, and certainly not enough to warrant changing the Voting Rights Act.”

Oyelowo reminds us that just two hours after Shelby, Texas moved to enact voting restrictions that previously were blocked under the VRA, saying, “That tells you that there are people waiting in the wings for 50 years to bring back things that had been fought, died for.”

Watch Oyelowo’s interview below.

Election Day Discrimination Demonstrates Critical Need for Restored VRA

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As voters headed to the polls on November 4, Americans across the country encountered serious obstacles while attempting to access the ballot. Throughout the day, reports of turned away voters and misinformed poll workers flooded in from across the country.

Texas

In Texas, the state’s restrictive voter ID law both discouraged and prevented many voters, especially voters of color and low-income voters, from exercising their fundamental right to the ballot. The Brennan Center for Justice collected the stories of Texas voters who were either unable to cast ballots, or had to endure numerous obstacles to do so.

Alabama

Alabama’s ID law also resulted in voters being turned away, including a 92-year-old woman who was told that her public housing ID did not satisfy the state’s ID requirement. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., wrote to Alabama’s secretary of state requesting this form of ID be accepted – since for many people of color it’s the only one they have – but that request was denied.

Georgia

In Georgia, the secretary of state’s office failed to process 40,000 voter registration applications in time for Tuesday’s election, leaving tens of thousands of voters unsure of whether or not they could cast a ballot.

North Carolina

Voters in North Carolina were turned away from polling locations due to the state’s new law eliminating out-of-precinct voting. Despite a circuit court’s ruling that the law would disproportionately affect African-American voters, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect. Art Lieberman, a voter protection volunteer in North Carolina, estimated that eight out of 10 people were at the wrong location.

Reports of North Carolina voters being asked for ID also rolled in on Election Day, even though the state’s voter ID law doesn’t go into effect until 2016.

The problems voters encountered Tuesday illustrate the chaotic and unfair reality Americans now live in as a result of the Supreme Court’s destructive decision in Shelby County vs. Holder. Prior to Shelby, the protections of the Voting Rights Act allowed possible discriminatory voting practices in some states to be identified and prevented before going into effect. The 2014 midterm elections made clear that without the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act, discrimination can only be identified after the right to vote is denied and American citizens are already disenfranchised.

The Election Protection Coalition reported receiving more than 18,000 calls to its Election Day hotline, a nearly 40 percent increase from 2010 levels. The coalition received the most calls from Georgia, Texas and Florida – all states that have voter ID laws.

“From the missing voter registrations in Georgia, to the voters turned away in Texas and North Carolina, it is clear that the real losers in this election were the American voters,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Without the clear, federal protections of the Voting Rights Act, conflicting court decisions on state voting restrictions have created a chaotic election landscape that has confused both voters and election officials. When Congress returns, its priority must be to restore the Voting Rights Act, or the discrimination and obstacles Americans faced yesterday will be the new normal for our elections.”

Why We Need Stronger Voting Protections

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Just two weeks from tomorrow, Americans will head to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. But this year, accessing the ballot may be easier said than done.

In North Carolina, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month allowed some discriminatory voting changes – eliminating same-day registration and the counting of out-of-precinct ballots, in particular – to go into effect for this year’s elections.

That decision – and others being handed down in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 election – are a prime example of what voting rights look like in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder, which eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) by allowing states and localities with a history of voting discrimination to change their voting laws without prior approval by the federal government. It’s also why Congress’s first order of business when it comes back to Washington must be to restore the VRA.

On Saturday morning, the Court allowed Texas to implement a photo ID law despite a lower court ruling that the law is intentionally discriminatory, unconstitutional, and could prevent more than 600,000 Texas citizens from voting. In a span of nine days, the law was struck down by a federal district court judge, put back in place by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and then allowed by the Supreme Court on Saturday – but not without opposition along the way.

In striking down the law, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos equated it to an “unconstitutional poll tax.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed. In her dissent to Saturday’s decision – joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor – she said the law likely would impose an unconstitutional poll tax that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, and wrote that “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”

Everything may truly be bigger in Texas, including its voting discrimination efforts.

And while North Carolina and Texas stand out as particularly flagrant cases, they’re not anomalies. Back in April, MotherJones found that more than half of the states previously covered by Section 5 of the VRA had already passed or implemented voting restrictions in the aftermath of the Shelby decision – compared to less than 9 percent of other, non-covered states.

In June, the Brennan Center for Justice also documented the post-Shelby voting landscape, noting that, as successful as Section 5 was in actually blocking restrictive laws, it also acted as a strong deterrent against harmful changes. They also underscored how difficult, costly, and time-consuming it is to challenge discriminatory laws in the wake of Shelby through Section 2 lawsuits, rather than through the pre-Shelby, preclearance process.

But why are states trying to make voting more difficult? Donna Brazile wondered this recently in a piece for CNN, saying that voting should be as accessible as possible. “We shouldn’t require forms of ID that folks don’t have, we shouldn’t restrict days or hours that allow working people a chance to both do their job and exercise their democratic right, and we damn well shouldn’t be throwing up new obstacles midstream.”

Tomorrow is significant for another reason: It marks 20 years since the United States ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), an international human rights treaty aiming to – as the name suggests – protect people from racial discrimination, whether intentional or not. That includes racial discrimination in voting, which persists around the country still today.

The CERD Committee, a group of independent experts charged with monitoring the implementation of the treaty, met earlier this year in Geneva, Switzerland, and its concluding observations released in August expressed concern over the Shelby decision. The committee said it was “concerned at the obstacles faced by individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples to effectively exercise their right to vote,” and recommended the United States enforce a federal voting rights law that encourages voter participation and – in the wake of Shelby – enact nationwide protections against voting laws that have a discriminatory impact.

That opinion is shared by the editorial board of The New York Times, which recently wrote that “Instead of juicing the rules to minimize opponents’ turnout, the country’s leaders should adopt an automatic, universal voter registration system and remove absurd restrictions on which polling places individuals must attend. The current, cumbersome, two-step voting process promotes confusion and deters participation.”

Whether or not you agree with the CERD Committee, The New York Times, other prominent editorial boards, federal judges, Supreme Court justices, the Government Accountability Office, and other voices in the chorus questioning how confusion over voting laws will affect voter turnout – or wondering just how many voters in two weeks will be disenfranchised by laws targeting minority voters – it’s clear that voting rights in America are at their most fragile point in nearly a half century since the VRA was first enacted. Voters need stronger protections against the types of restrictive laws being passed across the country today.

Here’s what you can do:

  • If you’re able to, use your voice on November 4 and vote to demand accountability on voting rights.
  • If you need help registering, have questions about your polling place, or want to report problems with the election system, call the Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
  • Sign the petition calling on Congress to restore the VRA.
  • Join #RestoreVotingRights Day on Tuesday, October 21, by tweeting why you think it’s time for Congress to restore the right to vote.

Court Strikes Down Arkansas Voter ID Law

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The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s restrictive voter ID law in a unanimous decision on Wednesday, saying the state’s law requiring voters to provide photo ID is unconstitutional.

In their ruling, the judges wrote that the ID requirement is “in effect, nothing but a prohibition upon the right to vote as secured by the constitution.”

The high court noted that Arkansas’ constitution specifically enumerated requirements to vote: that a person be a citizen of both the United States and Arkansas, be at least 18 years old, and be lawfully registered to vote. The court ruled that anything beyond that amounts to a new requirement and is unconstitutional.

The court’s decision comes just days before early voting is set to begin in Arkansas, and follows last week’s slew of court rulings on restrictive voting laws in Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Without clear, federal voting protections, such last-minute rulings and changes to voting laws can confuse voters and discourage them from heading to the polls.

Major Editorial Boards Agree: Restrictive Voting Laws Hurt Democracy

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Following a week of court rulings on voting laws in several states, the editorial boards of two of the country’s most respected newspapers voiced their strong opposition to discriminatory voting laws – and chastised Republicans in particular for seeking to limit access to the polls.

Last weekend, the editorial boards of both The Washington Post and The New York Times expressed that the sole objective of voter ID laws is to suppress voter turnout.

The Washington Post editorial board said that while responsible politicians should be doing everything they can to get voters to the polls, Republican lawmakers are attempting to depress poor and minority voter turnout.

“Instead of juicing the rules to minimize opponents’ turnout, the country’s leaders should adopt an automatic, universal voter registration system and remove absurd restrictions on which polling places individuals must attend. The current, cumbersome, two-step voting process promotes confusion and deters participation. Republicans’ blatant efforts to depress turnout even more is a disgrace.”

When pushing for voting restrictions, many Republicans cite voter fraud and say that they are promoting electoral integrity. In reality, there is virtually no in-person voter fraud, and a recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that voter ID laws decreased voter turnout in Kansas and Tennessee in 2012 by more than 100,000 votes, disproportionately affecting young and African-American voters.

In its editorial, The New York Times wrote:

“Voter ID laws, as their supporters know, do only one thing very well: They keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls. In most cases, this means voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs.”

The New York Times urged the Supreme Court to protect voting rights, stating, “The next time voter ID laws reach the justices, they should see them for the antidemocratic sham they are.”