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Fighting the ‘biggest wave of voter suppression’ since 1965

Khalil Abdullah | 8/29/2013, 6 a.m.

Rev. Joseph Lowery, 91, a former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, recently used the bully pulpit at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to promote the Voting Rights Project, a new 50-state initiative.

“There have been deliberate and systematic attempts at the state level to make it harder for voters to participate,” he said in a statement reported by The Atlanta World. “We must put an immediate stop to this or lose any gains we have made since the Civil Rights Movement and passage of the Voting Rights Act.”

A third front of organizational activity focuses on pressuring Congress to take up the issue of devising a new Section 4 formula so that Section 5 can be fully restored.

Section 5, the strongest oversight measure of the Voting Rights Act, allows the Department of Justice to challenge proposed changes in election laws before those changes could be implemented if they could be shown to have discriminatory impact on minority voters. But it was the findings under Section 4’s formula that triggered the DOJ action.

Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at Brennan Center for Justice, concurs with turning the focus to Capitol Hill.

“We want Congress to have conversations; we want them to hold hearings,” Perez said. “We want them to study the issue, talk to experts, review options and come up with something that is bipartisan and constitutional. Section 5 is still constitutional. Section 4 requires revisiting and we need Congress to do that.”

But a congressional revival of Section 4 — so that Section 5 can once again be employed by DOJ — could prove to be a distant possibility.

“By invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the court has effectively eliminated Section 5 federal oversight,” wrote David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “The current U.S. House of Representatives will almost certainly not provide a new definition for Section 4 coverage, and so Section 5 is out for the foreseeable future.”

Others add that partisan politics could lead to congressional inaction. Both houses of the North Carolina legislature are controlled by Republicans, as is the governor’s office.

Congress may speak of reinstating Section 4 and 5, but for some Republican members, it could be seen as political suicide for their party. Republicans have better odds of holding North Carolina in 2016 with HB 589 enacted and Section 5 sidelined.

While all three prongs of a voting rights offensive may be in play, ultimately, the endgame in voters’ rights may be the passage of a constitutional amendment explicitly guaranteeing the right to vote. Currently, that right is only implicit under federal law. Resources, again, may be the determinant of whether such a movement can be sustained.

At a time when African American and Latino voters are often marginalized by successful gerrymandering, the amount of energy required to move a coalition forward will be formidable.

Still, said Culliton-Gonzalez, “We’re not going away.”

New America Media