Commentary: The Fight for Voting Rights Is Far From Over

The passage of strict voter identification laws in Virginia signals that the attack on voting rights is still underway.

Posted: 02/21/2013 06:27 PM EST
Commentary: The Fight for Voting Rights is Far From Over

By last fall, the issue of restrictive voter identification laws was red hot. Civil rights organizations, good-government groups and others kept the issue of restrictive voter identification requirements on the front burner of the nation’s political discussion.

But then came Barack Obama’s reelection. The president not only won, but he did so by attaining victories in all but one of the so-called swing states. And, in the aftermath of that triumph, the political drama over voter identification laws seems to have faded from memory.

Certainly, the nation’s attention has shifted from the issues related to the election to other matters. We have been consumed and horrified by the gun violence at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and in the South Side of Chicago. We have been anxiously riveted by the stalemates over the debt ceiling and, now, the imminent danger of sequestration.

But voting rights, specifically the need to protect the ability of African-American and Latino voters to cast ballots, deserves the continued focus of the nation. If there was any doubt of that, just consider the case of the state of Virginia. This week, the state’s legislature passed a new, strict photo identification requirement for voters in the state.

Virginia’s African-American lawmakers have complained that the measure is certain to discourage poor, elderly and minority citizens from voting. Jennifer McClellan, a Democratic member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, said that the law was tantamount to a poll tax.

The Virginia legislation, which is certain to be signed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, is not the only such measure being considered around the country. Republican-controlled legislatures in several states are still very much about the business of modifying their voting laws in a manner that would suppress African-American and Latino participation.

A voter identification law, similar to the one on Virginia, is still very much in play in Pennsylvania, despite the fact that it was temporarily suspended by a state court shortly before the 2012 presidential election. Meanwhile, the federal government stepped in to halt similar measures in South Carolina and Texas, saying they violated the Voting Rights Act.

These measures in those states will surely resurface in an age where the Voting Rights Act itself is under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court, which will rule on the constitutionality of its most forceful components.

In short, this is no time to for relaxation for advocates of accessible and expansive voting for all Americans. This is a season for additional vigilance on the part of progressive voices to be unrelenting in their effort to insure that this assault on voting rights doesn’t spread any further.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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