By Congressman Alcee L. Hastings
Half a century ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought an end to the era of Jim Crow by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. One year later, the landmark legislation was strengthened and expanded when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The Voting Rights Act prohibited discrimination in voting, and together with the Civil Rights Act enshrines the principles upon which our nation was founded. These laws serve as a testament to all who sacrificed to work towards ending segregation and discrimination.
For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act has stood as a central pillar in the protection of fair voting practices. Our nation now faces the greatest threat to voting rights since Reconstruction.
Last year, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The decision severely undermines the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. Although legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to address this flawed decision, Congress has yet to take action. Shelby County has allowed more than a dozen states with histories of voter discrimination to implement new restrictions on voting.
When it comes time for voting, voter suppression is far too prevalent throughout our country. We need not look further than our own state of Florida, where Governor Rick Scott has made repeated attempts to purge Florida’s voter database despite the fact that his attempt to do so in 2011 was suspended by the U.S. Department of Justice. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled just last month that Gov. Scott’s administration violated federal law when he tried to purge non-citizens from the voter rolls immediately prior to the 2012 presidential election.
Today, we face an unsettling reality. Shelby County, one of many recent decisions by the Supreme Court that has disenfranchised American voters, made it easier for minorities to be discriminated against at the polls. Republicans in Congress, as well as states across the country, have gone out of their way to make it more difficult for minorities, the elderly, and young people to vote. This is outrageous and should serve as a wake-up call to voters everywhere.
Our nation has the obligation to make it easier for all American to vote, not more difficult. Instead of creating burden-some photo ID requirements for voting, we should be expanding access to the polls through early voting and same-day registration. Instead of finding new ways to limit voting, we should be working day and night to ensure that every American has the opportunity to vote in person or through absentee ballot.
Voter discrimination has not disappeared, and Congress must act to put in place greater voter protections to ensure that all Americans can have their voices heard. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, which will take the necessary steps to address the flawed decision in Shelby County. I hope that Congress takes up this legislation very soon, because we cannot afford to let this issue slip from focus. Countless individuals have fought long and hard for the chance to vote on Election Day and we must not allow the clock to turn back on decades of progress.
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings represents Florida’s 20th Congressional district, serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.