The Voting Rights Act is 53 years old today

It’s time to fight back against the suppression of voting rights

2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference | Latino Youth Vote

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. It was on this day in 1965 that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law.

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The VRA was landmark legislation, intended to eradicate and prevent widespread voter discrimination against minorities who tried to exercise their right to register and vote. Electoral participation in the Black and Latino communities rose with the VRA, as did the number of elected minorities. As a result, today we have a much more diverse electorate and Congress.

In 1975, Congress went even further and passed amendments to the VRA that protect non-native English speakers. This was a significant development in voting rights protections and created a more inclusive electoral system overall for all language minorities. These amendments were also significant to Latinos, as it helped the community make progress toward gaining voting equality.

For decades, that was how the VRA functioned—successfully blocking states from enacting discriminatory voting laws and practices.

However, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the federal review provisions of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder. After the ruling, states were emboldened to create and implement restrictive voting requirements, such as photo voter ID and proof of citizenship requirements.

These requirements, justified on the basis of non-existent voter fraud, were aimed at decreasing the participation of Latino voters in our elections.

Miami canvassers register to vote
UnidosUS canvassers register citizens to vote in Miami during an event held in partnership with Univision.

Without the protection from the VRA, 35 states passed or introduced restricting voting measures, including reducing early voting periods (which are heavily used by minority voters), in addition to adopting burdensome administrative requirements.

Indeed, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the VRA, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía noted that: “In 2015 alone, over 100 bills imposing voter restrictions were introduced in more than 30 states throughout the nation. Although these bills are wholly unnecessary and violate our citizens’ rights, it will be undeniably tougher to strike them down without a fully restored VRA.”

Voting rights under the Trump administration have been no better.

In fact, President Trump and his administration have sown suspicion around Latinos casting their ballots, from briefly appointing Kris Kobach to investigate non-existent voter fraud to claiming that millions of “illegal immigrants” voted illegally in the 2016 election, to ridiculing critics’ claims of voter ID discrimination by hilariously claiming that a photo ID is needed to make a trip to the grocery store.

Power of 18 | Register to Vote | UnidosUS

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, succinctly summed up these attacks at our 2018 Annual Conference: “We cannot pretend there isn’t a movement in this country that is trying to keep African Americans and Latinos from voting.”

But we can fight back.

There are only 92 days until Election Day 2018. Some states are still holding primary elections. But beyond the primaries, there’s another important day to remember—November 6, 2018.

There are hundreds of reasons to vote: to protect civil rights, better public transportation, college affordability, health care access and affordability, prices at the grocery store, and more.

UnidosUS continues to call for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act in order to strengthen our democracy. But there’s something that you can do right now.

Register to vote today. It’s your right.

By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS

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