WASHINGTON (CNS) – Voting rights advocates discussed the disenfranchisement of voters in the United States, especially in the November election and said the system needs to improve.
At the Jan. 11 “State of voting rights in America” panel at The Brookings Institution, panelists such as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr. recalled the “very tortured history around the right to vote” in the U.S. and said steps must be taken so that rights are not further eroded.
Many took aim at the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby vs. Holder, which in 2013 struck down an important part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and allowed nine southern states to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The decision, which took effect immediately, affected redistricting maps and voter identification laws that many on the panel credited with disenfranchising African Americans and Latino voters.
The evening before, in his farewell address to the nation as president, Barack Obama mentioned some of those concerns.
“When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote,” he said.
Clarissa Martinez de Castro, deputy vice president at the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza, said it is no coincidence that obstacles seem to appear and are disparate among communities of color, particularly among those whose numbers are growing in the electorate. Measures to disenfranchise those communities are intentional, she said.
“The reality is that voter suppression is alive and well,” she said.
Martinez de Castro spoke about defeating measures at the local level that diminish voters’ accessibility and other obstacles to participating in elections. While the problem may seem to affect communities of color disproportionately, it should worry everyone because it ultimately can affect all citizens, she said.
“We are talking about a naked attempt to quiet … the voices of those communities,” Martinez de Castro said. “In many ways, our communities (of color) are the canaries in the mine. It does not only affect black communities.”
In her 2013 dissent of the Shelby County vs. Holder case to which the panelists repeatedly referred, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: “The court errs egregiously.” She lamented the high court’s decision and said that for a time, the Voting Rights Act had tried to do something about ending racial disparity among voters.
Panelist Hilary O. Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy and policy at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Washington office, said communities can do something about what’s happening by voting, particularly in local elections.
“It’s in our hands,” he said. “If Congress wants to get re-elected, it’s in our hands. We have to fix what we have … and make sure the right to vote is enjoyed by everyone.”
In a time to build, CatholicPhilly.com connects people and communities
As society emerges from the loss and separation of the pandemic, CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you join in our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103