By Stephanie Ramirez-Burnett
This month marks 47 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The legislation was a response to the discriminatory voting practices many African Americans faced in the South after the Civil War. It was celebrated as a sign of changing times: blacks would no longer endure outlandish obstacles such as literacy tests, poll taxes, harassment, and in the most severe cases, physical violence that kept them from engaging in their community. This new law gave them hope, pride, and the chance to engage in democracy. The legislation had a great impact: 60 percent of eligible blacks were registered to vote by 1968. To many Americans – both white and black – the Voting Rights Act was a huge victory.
Fast forward to 2012; the path to civic engagement has new obstacles. Several state governments have enacted a range of laws that suppress voting, and there have been more challenges to the Voting Rights Act since 2011 than the previous 45 years combined. Some states, such as Texas, are subject to Section 5 of the Act, which requires states with a history of voter discrimination to pre-clear any changes of their voting procedures changes with the Justice Department. This past March, the Justice Department blocked a Texas law requiring an ID to vote. The law would create a huge disadvantage to Latino and black voters who on average are less likely to have photo IDs than white voters. Pennsylvania adopted a similar law that would keep 758,000 registered voters from the polls this November for lack of ID cards.