Campaign and Suffrage
When the ink on the constitution dried, the ratifications of the states were complete and the structure of our country was finally taking shape, the privilege of voting was conferred upon a narrow class of citizens, wealthy land-owning white men. As time went on, voting rights expanded to larger casts of the electorate. Representative democracy became the crown jewel of our country. Voting gave citizens the power to change and control the government, making it responsive to the will of citizens and not the other way around. Martin Luther King, Jr. once declared, “Voting is the foundation stone for political action. The basic elements so vital to Negro advancement can only be achieved by seeking redress from government at local, state and Federal levels. To do this the vote is essential.” Indeed the right to vote is the single greatest right granted every American regardless of socioeconomic circumstance, familiar origins or racial identity. Though, the latter came about only very recently.
In 1965 the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was crafted and by most measures has successfully curtailed some of the most egregious efforts by those who wish to prevent minority groups from voting. Poll taxes and literacy tests are a thing of the past. The voting rights act is a broad piece of legislation, which requires that “[n]o voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Key to the enforcement of the VRA is the provision under Section V of the Act, which requires specific states, counties and municipalities with a history of repressing minorities through voting laws to obtain pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or a panel of three D.C.-based judges before making any changes to their respective voting laws.
Despite the success of these provisions, there was significant controversy in 2006 when the VRA was up for renewal in Congress as to the relevance of this key provision. Despite the objection of a number of legislators, the provision survived the renewal process and was granted life for another 25 years. 2012 saw the resurgence of voter suppression efforts nation-wide. However, a number of states have now challenged the law as a case of federal over-reach. In response to their petition, the Supreme Court as agreed to take the case thrusting voting rights, already a contentious issue in the last election, back into the spotlight.
MLK fought hard for the enactment of the VRA and ensuring the unencumbered right to vote for all Americans. The RAC, too, played an important role in the fight for this legislation in the 60s; the VRA was, in fact, drafted in our conference room. To say the least, we have taken a keen interest in this Supreme Court case and will be monitoring the case carefully over the coming months.
Stay tuned to the RACblog for more on Voting Rights Act!
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress.