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The Voting Rights Act Continues To Face Controversy, 50 Years After Its Enactment

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center at the podium and surrounded by fellow Democrats, speaks during an event on the House East Front Steps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 30, 2015.

CREDIT: AP/Susan Walsh.

Although the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year, the conversation around the future of the VRA is far from complete in Washington. Most recently, the conversation around the VRA on the Hill has become increasingly divided. House Democratic leaders are pushing forward a new campaign to re-introduce an update to the VRA called the Voting Rights Advancement Act, drawing upon changes made to the previous legislation to increase voter protections that the Supreme Court rejected in 201. Momentum for restoring and improving access to the booth has never been more urgent, especially as the 2016 election nears. However, the pressure to prevent these measures has also been mounting, with conservative leaders refusing to consider new provisions to the VRA, insisting that the current law accounts for all necessary measures.

In the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County v. Holder decision, the court’s five conservative justices stripped provisions of the Voting Rights Act that made it easier for states to adopt voter identification requirements and harder for Americans to vote. In their new campaign, House Democrats are calling for Congress to respond to the court’s decision and proposing new voting rights policies. Through “Restoration Tuesdays,” House Democrats highlight on a state-by-state basis the barriers that prevent citizens from voting. Through these measures, they hope to increase public support for restoring and reforming the Voting Rights Act, thereby pressuring Republicans to act.

`As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) put it: “The integrity of our whole voting system is in question when we put up these barriers. Restoration Tuesday gives us a way to reach out, to re-engage, so that people see the connection between their vote, legislation that passes and their lives.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the assistant Democratic leader added to Pelosi’s sentiments at a press conference on the Voting Rights Advancement Act: “We have seen since [the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013] a proliferation of activity in states across the country erecting impediments to voting. So we have advanced what we call the Voting Rights Advancement Act to answer the Supreme Court’s call to restore the vote.”

Ensuring the right to vote should not be a partisan issue. Rather, protecting the right to vote and restoring the VRA should be viewed as an extension of an effective representative democracy. Although Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) several months ago became the first Republican to support legislation to restore the VRA, the conversation has yet to build bipartisan momentum. As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), stated on the urgency of passing voter protection legislation: “Most Americans don’t understand that the ability to vote effectively, in many states, has been removed.”

With citizens across the country feeling unnecessary barriers to cast their ballot and an inability shape the politics they live in, ensuring voter protections should not be a red or blue issue; it should just be the right thing for Congress to do.

Jazmin Kay is a reporter for Generation Progress, covering voting rights and civic engagement. Follow her on Twitter at @jazminlkay.

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