By Barney Blakeney
August 6 marked the 54th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For many the monumental civil rights event went unacknowledged. Barbara Zia, Citizen Education coordinator for the Charleston Area League of Women Voters, called the event an important one prompting a Charleston vigil August 6 at the Circular Congregational Church.
Instead of just commemorating the landmark voting rights legislation, many advocates in Charleston and around the nation are fighting to curb the voter suppression unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to gut it, Zia said.
The Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision paved a path for states to pass a wave of new restrictive voting laws that disproportionately impact people of color by removing the preclearance requirements in the Voting Rights Act that applied to many states, including South Carolina. Preclearance required certain states to get federal approval before making changes in voting laws. Since the Supreme Court decision, restrictive voting laws have been passed in 20 states. Extreme gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and voter purges all infringe on Americans’ ability to exercise their right to vote, the League purports.
Despite its history of voter suppression, South Carolina has avoided much of the egregious erosion of voting rights experienced in neighboring states, Zia said. Still South Carolina struggled to defend against attacks such as picture ID requirements that could have been more detrimental without vigilance. The two-year struggle against the legislation enacted in 2013 drew the line in the sand, Zia said. The August 6 vigil served notice the League still is standing on that line, she emphasized.
She noted U.S. House of Representatives’ Bill H.R.4 being proposed to update the coverage formula for preclearance to ensure it is based on contemporary acts of discrimination and provide mechanisms to prevent discrimination in voting nationwide.
Zia said it is imperative young people be informed of the battle to retain voting rights such as those that empower criminal ex-offenders who have completed their sentences and inmates confined at detention centers to participate in deciding the political course of their communities. They must be informed and keep their guard up to secure the right to vote, she said.