Voters’ rights under fire since since Shelby

JCRC Scene
Matt Goldberg

Matt Goldberg

It is beginning to feel like the next 18 months will be dominated by discussions of elections.
We have had a taste of that here in Kentucky, with primary season over for the governor’s race, and we now move to the general election. It is difficult to predict who will win, but I am already hearing that this will be one of the most important elections in the history of the state (something we seem to hear every election).
Nationally, even though we have such a long time until November 2020, we are already in full election mode.
There are currently 23 Democrats seeking the right to take on President Donald Trump in the national election. Even the president has one primary challenger (so far).
The national candidates are already talking about the issues we care about in the Jewish community –
the environment, Israel, poverty, criminal justice reform and reproductive choice.
While the Jewish Community of Louisville will not endorse anybody – ever, we are hopeful that candidates in both parties, for every race, take these important issues seriously and plan to address them.
Elections are the most basic exercise in a democracy, and we should all be thrilled that we have the chance to participate and to live in this great country, where leaders are chosen by the people they govern, not by birthright or the military. But as much as we all love America and cherish its democratic norms, we must still fight to see that elections are fair, that they really do represent the will of all the people.
June 25 will mark the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, a landmark decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act, subjecting millions of voters to disenfranchisement. The Voting Rights Act essentially required states with a verifiable history of racially motivated voter discrimination to seek pre-clearance should they decide to change their election laws or policies. It had been renewed almost unanimously for years since it was enacted in 1965 – until six years ago.
Since Shelby, over 1,000 polling places have been closed, early voting eliminated in many places and African American voters packed into gerrymandered districts in order to minimize their impact on races. In 2016 alone,14 states imposed new restrictive voting laws for the first time in advance of the presidential election. By 2018, six states had new restrictive laws in place.
Federal Courts have determined intentional discrimination in at least 10 voting rights decisions since Shelby. This is something that should disturb all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.
While Congress has hemmed and hawed about drafting a new Voting Rights Act, nothing has been done and the disenfranchisement continues. Our democracy works best when everyone can fully participate, no matter who they are, or their race or color.
Congress must fix these injustices by passing a new Voting Rights Act that prevents racial discrimination in voting while restoring credibility to our elections. Our democracy does work, and we should be proud to be part of a democratic process, especially when so many around the world don’t have this right.
But it is a problem when any voter is disenfranchised, and particularly bad when this disenfranchisement disproportionally affects people of color.
As we think about whom to vote for in the coming months, let’s also consider the fairness of our system. As Americans, we should demand nothing less than full equality and opportunity.

(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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