On the 45th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, President Barack Obama called the Act "an affirmation that although the arc of the moral universe may be long, it bends toward justice."
The chance for blacks to vote for Obama was itself was a major victory for blacks and the Voting Rights Act, writes Cord Jefferson for The Root, but "sadly, the good news ended there."
Criminal disenfranchisement remains a major barrier to voting, Jefferson writes, citing Human Rights Watch statistics that nearly a third of all black men in Alabama and Florida are permanently disenfranchised by past convictions.
"The issue of felon disenfranchisement turns the spotlight on some uncomfortable facts about who goes to prison in the United States, a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world," ACS board member Linda Greenhouse wrote in a column for The New York Times last month.
In her column, Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, highlighted an opportunity for the Obama administration to take leadership on the issue of felon disenfranchisement. The Supreme Court has asked the Office of the Solicitor General to take a position on whether laws that disenfranchise those in prison or on parole are a violation of the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
States have imposed other requirements that "restrain the right to vote," including a photo ID requirement in Indiana, and a system that relies on outdated information to verify citizenship in Georgia, writes CNN contributor Donna Brazile. Adds Brazile:
Other states have enacted similar laws or have simply refused to comply with federal demands, perhaps betting that they are unlikely to face reprimand from an overburdened federal government. This year, an election administrator in Texas -- a state employee -- publicly mocked the Voting Rights Act's language minority protections, telling an audience that poll workers should simply speak in slow, broken English to Spanish-speaking voters. The administrator was fired.
In addition to state laws that have eroded the Act, the constitutionality of the core provision of the Act, Section 5, has been challenged in multiple lawsuits in recent months, writes Kristen Clarke in The Grio.
But, Clarke adds, "It is perhaps because of the success of the Voting Rights Act that the law has a target on its back."
"A few years ago, people could not vote simply because of the color of their skin," Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), who led the civil rights march now known as "Bloody Sunday," said during remarks in Florida recently. "With the passage and implementation of this Act we have witnessed a nonviolent revolution in America," he added in a statement commemorating the Act's anniversary.
On September 28, Congressman Lewis and historian Taylor Branch will discuss the Voting Rights Act during an ACS symposium in Washington, D.C. The symposium will include two panels of leading voting rights experts, who will discuss the Act in light of recent precedent and explore election administration issues in the 2010 mid-term. More details about the event will be announced at ACS's website.