Democrats fighting for spirit of Voting Rights Act

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Fort Lauderdale, FL, August 6, 2015 | comments

By Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. With a stroke of his pen, long-entrenched policies that had prevented African-Americans and other racial minorities from casting their ballots were finally declared illegal nationwide.

The law is arguably one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history, bringing to a close a century of political disenfranchisement.

However, where millions saw hope and progress in the act, others doubled down in their effort to slowly but surely make it harder for communities of color to have their voices heard.

It's hard to believe that half a century after the brave marchers in Selma — including our colleague, John Lewis — moved a president, the Congress and the American people to action, we must still fight for voting rights.

Let us be frank: It is Democrats who believe we are a better nation when more people vote. Simply put, Republicans do not.

After the Supreme Court irresponsibly threw out a key provision of the Voting Rights Act two years ago, the Republican voter suppression playbook has been in full swing in states nationwide, eliminating same-day registration, reducing early voting, targeting Sunday voting, doing away with pre-registration, fighting online voter registration and passing restrictive voter identification laws.

Today also happens to be the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 cycle in Cleveland. Their records show their disdain for equal voting rights.

Chris Christie has vetoed early voting legislation in New Jersey. Scott Walker signed into law one of the nation's strictest voter ID laws in Wisconsin, and then had the gall to fundraise off of such an action. And both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio have attacked early voting in Florida, with Rubio dismissing harsh, restrictive voter laws by asking, "What's the big deal?"

Senator, it's a big deal in 2015 that one of the major political parties in America actively pursues an agenda that makes it harder to vote.

Indeed, each member of the Republican field is more interested in gaining access to tonight's debate stage than helping more Americans gain access to the voting booth — a glaring example of their extreme, backward policies which disproportionately impact women, seniors, students, young voters and communities of color.

The ability to vote can be a powerful motivator. In the aftermath of Ferguson, some of the activists chose to channel their frustration and energy into registering their neighbors to vote.

And yet, the tide is against them. Missouri House Republicans have proposed a voter ID bill which the secretary of state's office has found would exclude more than 200,000 citizens from voting. But in this year's city council elections, voter participation in Ferguson more than doubled. There's a long way to go, but it's a start toward moving their community forward.

Just a few years ago, Gov. Rick Scott pursued an expensive and disgraceful effort to purge illegal voters from the Florida voter rolls. The results were as unimpressive as Scott's campaign was dishonorable, and the state later abandoned the campaign.

In South Florida, we've convened a working group of law enforcement, elected officials, as well as faith and community leaders to talk about improved relationships, mutual trust and accountability. And a theme we keep hearing is the importance of voting. People want unabridged access to voting in order to have a say and a stake in policies that impact them and their families.

In Congress, we're proud to be co-sponsors of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would undo the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder and strengthen the federal government's ability to ensure fairness in elections in all 50 states.

Democrats believe our nation and our democracy are stronger when more people can vote. We're advocating for common-sense solutions to repair our broken election system so every American can register to vote, cast a vote and have their vote properly counted.

It is this core belief that compels us to continue the fight that our brothers and sisters before us engaged in so admirably. We must work together to strengthen our nation's democracy and ensure that the voting rights of all Americans are protected.

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings represents Florida's 20th district, and serves as a senior member of the House Rules Committee.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Florida's 23rd District, serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

This op-ed originally ran in the Sun Sentinel on August 6, 2015. It can be found online here: 

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