Ninth Moral Monday Focused on Voting Rights Act

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mm9-1(APN) ATLANTA — On the ninth Moral Monday in Georgia, held on Monday, March 20, 2014, over three hundred people crowded in the rotunda of the State Capitol to hear leaders in the civil rights movement and others explain the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and why it is still important today.

 

The speakers included Dr. Francys Johnson, President, Georgia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Dr. R.L. White, President, Atlanta Branch NAACP; Faya Rose Sanders, Founder, Selma Voting Rights Museum; Elizabeth Poythress, League of Women Voters of Georgia; Bernard Simelton, Alabama State Conference of NAACP; Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church; Mayor Johnny Ford, Tuskegee, Alabama; State Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia); former Alabama State Sen. Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; State Senator Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta); Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials; Amanda Hill- Attkisson, Georgia Women’s Actions for New Directions; State Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta); State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas; and Jharia Martin, 21st Century Youth Leadership.  


Helen Butler with the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda introduced the speakers.

 

Moral Monday Georgia was joined by Saving OurSelves (S.O.S.) Movement for Justice and Democracy.  SOS is a network of over forty organizations committed to social justice.  Their goal is to register one million new voters by the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was passed to make sure states did not pass laws or policies to deny U.S. citizens the equal right to vote on the basis of race.

 

Section 5 of the Act required certain states and jurisdictions to get preapproval from the U.S. Department of Justice for any changes to the voting process they wanted to make.

 

Section 4 of the Act had defined which states and jurisdictions would be subject to the preclearance requirement.

 

In 2013, the Supreme Court of the U.S., dominated by Conservatives, ruled 5-4 in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, thus invalidating Sections 4 and 5.  The majority of the Court ruled that the criteria from 1965 were no longer applicable today.

Section 4 covered Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.  

 

“With the decision of Shelby v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court absolutely erased the fundamental protections against racial discrimination in voting that had had been effected for five decades.  The preclearance section of the VRA helped the U.S. Department of Justice block over 700 voting discrimination measures between 1982 and 2006,” Poythress said.

 

“You can’t mess with my voting rights, you will have to kill me first before I let you take away my voting rights.   We are prepared to be offered up, we are prepared to be sacrificed, and we have set our eyes toward Washington, DC. and we are not going to let nobody turn us around.   We want the VRA restored fully,” Mayor Ford of Tuskegee, Alabama, told the Moral Monday audience.

 

“When voter rights was being debated in the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justice, Anthony Scalia said something to the effect ‘that voters rights must be some kind of entitlement.’  Voter rights is not an entitlement it is a right,” Simelton said.

 

The Latino vote in Georgia has grown from 10,000 in 2003 to 184,000 in 2012, but voter participation rate in Georgia started to decrease in 2008.   

 

“We can’t make the gains we have made registering new Latino voters, only to have roadblocks put in place to deter them from exercising their fundamental right to vote,” Gonzalez said.

 

“In Gainesville, home of Gov. Deal, it is 45 percent Latino.  They do outreach in English only; that’s not outreach to that [Latino] community.  We believe they are in violation of the VRA,” Gonzalez said.

 

There are many policies and laws today that block citizens’ rights to vote.

 

Some of the blocks to voting are strict voter ID laws, poor ballot design, purging of voters who are eligible to vote, felony disenfranchisement in some states, provisional ballots not being counted, lack of an adequate number of voting machines in minority and poor districts, reductions in early voting time, changes in polling place locations, reductions in polling place resources, and lack of voter instructions or outreach in non-English languages.

 

As it was getting near the 5pm, Capitol closing time, the microphone was turned off, allegedly because the activists were too loud, and the Capitol Police said we only had a few more minutes before they put us out.

 

“They want us to shut up in the place where we pay the bills.  We own this place and we will not be quiet as long as gerrymandering is going on.  We will not be quiet, as long as the Governor says there is not enough money in Georgia for the poorest who pay their taxes too,” White said.

 

The second part of the program was planned across the street at Central Presbyterian Church, with additional information on the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court decision, and HR 3899 the “Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.”

 

“In 2006, Congress reauthorized the VRA in the Senate with a vote of 98 to 0, and in the House 390 to 33.  The Shelby decision declared the formula that was just passed in the 2006 re-authorization was inaccurate, that it was flawed,”  Johnson said.

“In the waking hours of the Shelby decision, we saw the rollback of early voting, reducing the types of ID we could use, jurisdictions consolidated… the grab for power has been something none of us believed was possible,” Johnson said.

 

Within hours of the Shelby decision, Texas and Mississippi officials pledged to enforce voter ID laws that had previously not been precleared.

 

Texas said it would implement SB 14, one of the strictest photo ID laws in the nation.  

 

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would require jurisdictions with a recent record of repeated VRA violations to pre-clear election law changes, according to the Brennan Justice Center.

 

It would expand the current “bail-in” procedures, which allow courts to subject jurisdictions to preclearance.  It would create a uniform requirement to inform voters of certain pending voting changes.  It would enhance the ability of lawyers to halt discriminatory elections measures before they can harm citizens.  It would allow federal observers to monitor elections to ensure compliance with laws protecting the rights of U.S. citizens who speak limited English.

 

(END/2014)

 

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