The Progress Report

Defending And Expanding The Right To Vote

This week marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Obama, along with former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, traveled to the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Texas to pay tribute to the historic legislation and the man who spearheaded its passage.

In celebrating the milestone, however, both Obama and Clinton also took the opportunity to bring up another critical piece of LBJ’s civil rights legacy currently under attack for the first time in decades: the Voting Rights Act. Last year the Supreme Court gutted the law by deciding that discrimination is no longer rampant enough in Southern states to warrant extra scrutiny. And since then, several of these states, along with GOP-led swing states, have made a concerted effort to suppress the vote under the guise of combating the virtually non-existent problem of voter fraud. (A new rule in Miami-Dade county prohibits voters from using the bathroom, no matter how long the line is.)

Obama, in stirring remarks during which he credits LBJ’s accomplishments as a big part of “why I’m standing here today,” lauded President Johnson’s persistence to pursue voting rights after the Civil Rights Act was passed:

And he didn’t stop there, even though his advisers again told him to wait, again told him, let the dust settle; let the country absorb this momentous decision. He shook them off. The meat in the coconut, as President Johnson would put it, was the Voting Rights Act. So he fought for and passed that as well.

Clinton, meanwhile, took more direct approach. Speaking about the impacts of Texas’s new strict voter ID law, he said:

Here in Texas, the concealed carry permit counts [as a voter ID], but there’s one photo ID that doesn’t count: one from a Texas institution of higher education. This is a way of restricting the franchise after 50 years of expanding it. …Anytime you erect a barrier to political participation that disenfranchises people based on their income or race, it undermines the spirit of the Civil Rights Act.

These comments come as progressives organize to fight back against these repressive laws. States across the country are working to pass laws that don’t suppress the vote, but make it more accessible for every American:

votingexpand

And some of the Democratic party’s biggest names are putting a spotlight on the issue: Vice President Joe Biden recorded a video urging supporters to get involved. Bill and Hillary Clinton are “fired up.” And President Obama recently called efforts to prevent people from voting “un-American.”

BOTTOM LINE: After being arrested for leading a protest to pass the Voting Rights Act, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a Selma, Alabama jail cell that voting is the “foundation stone for political action.” Today, that basic right is being threatened again. Defending the right to vote shouldn’t have to be a partisan issue; everybody should be able to agree to make voting more accessible for all.

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