Bloody Sunday and the Voting Rights Act Today
We’re at roughly the mid-point in the 49th Anniversary of the voting rights marches in Alabama that provided the final impetus for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On March 7, 1965, civil rights marchers trying to cross a bridge in Selma were brutally attacked by state police. The images (see above) of the incident shocked the nation. On March 16, Martin Luther King, Jr. led another group of protesters across that same bridge and with them walked to the state capitol, Montgomery, where on March 25 he led a voting rights rally of about 25,000 people strong. Shortly after the events, the Voting Rights Act was passed.
But last year, the Supreme Court hobbled one of that act’s key provisions—the so-called pre-clearance section that required certain states and localities get advance approval from the US Department of Justice for changes in voting processes.
Since that ruling, two things have happened. First, Congress has begun the process of passing a new version of the Voting Rights Act that would pass the Supreme Court’s test. But the effort faces stiff hurdles and all eyes are turning to Virginia Republican Representative Eric Cantor, who is the House Majority Leader. Last weekend, he went to Alabama to help commemorate Bloody Sunday. But when and how will he actually help? That’s the critical question probed in this illuminating article from last week’s Roll Call.
Meanwhile, as efforts to reinvigorate the act languish, the full effects of the Supreme Court’s decision are beginning to be felt. Just yesterday, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund released its latest survey of state and local law changes to voting process. And, um, the trend is clear: no one is really trying to make voting any easier.
Here’s my favorite example: One North Carolina County Board of Elections voted to eliminate an early voting site and election-day polling precinct on a university campus. The same county also is considering a plan to combine three precincts into one to serve 9,300 voters, making it the third-largest voting precinct in the state. That one precinct site has 35 parking spaces, is a mile away from the university, along a campus road with no sidewalks.
With about a year to go before the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, it really is time to pick up the pace on giving the Voting Rights Act new life.