From the Union of Black Episcopalians: Voting Rights

A few years ago, we marked the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most consequential piece of legislation ever passed by Congress. It was this law that literally changed the face of our democracy by allowing equal access to the ballot box for all Americans.

Now, more than three years since the Supreme Court ruling in the Shelby case struck down key enforcement provisions, we have seen a return to suppressive voter practices that have created modern day barriers to voting.

Voter ID restrictions, DMV closings and poll location changes without notifications creating long lines at the polls have become the new normal. These challenges remind us that we must remain ever vigilant in our fight for voter equality.

The sacrifices of those who marched from Selma to Montgomery for justice led to the passage of the VRA. Their sacrifices demand nothing less than our continued commitment to ensuring that every American can exercise the right to vote.

Such right to access to the ballot box can be found in scripture. For in Matthew 7:12, it states: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Such an interpretation can be ascribed to the granting of every man or woman their right to vote. This is further consistent with our Baptismal Covenant’s charge "to respect the dignity of every human being."

Recent court rulings by federal courts in Texas and North Carolina have struck down restrictive photo ID laws. They have been major victories for American democracy. These court decisions have validated primary concerns that photo ID requirements, like Alabama's law, have a discriminatory impact on certain vulnerable communities.

In the case of the North Carolina voter ID law, the federal appellate court ruled that provisions of the law "specifically target African-Americans with almost surgical precision." Likewise, the court panel further noted the state's motivation of reducing fraud "impose cures for problems that did not exist."

Alabama election officials should heed the warning instead of doubling down on a bad voter ID law that, in effect if not by design, creates real access barriers to voting for certain Alabamians.

While these recent court decisions set important precedent against suppressive state voting laws, only Congress has the power to act to fully restore the full protections of the VRA by creating new preclearance requirements. We call on Democratic and Republican legislatures to do this.

Voting rights is not a partisan issue; it is a quintessential American issue. The history of the VRA is one of bipartisan support. The VRA was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, on August 6, 1965, and reauthorized by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan in 1982 and George W. Bush in 2006. Let us not forget that voting is the cornerstone of our democracy.

We must recommit ourselves to protecting the vote and restoring the VRA. Much can also be done on the state level. For example, the adoption, on a state-by-state basis, the following package of reforms would expand voter registration, increase

A. Implement automatic voter registration;

B. Enable same-day voter registration;

C. Prepare for Natural Disasters;

D. Allow online voter registration;

E. Expand the circle of people who are eligible to vote;

F. Make it easier to vote by mail;

G. Enable no-excuse absentee voting;

H. Create long-term mailing lists for absentee voters;

I. Make it easier for people to vote early, in person;

J. Enable weekend voting and extended hours:

K. Guarantee an adequate number of voting locations:

Each parish or diocese can become active in ensuring that voter rights are protected. This can be accomplished in many ways, including, but not limited to the following:

1) Participating in town hall discussions on the issue;

2) Keeping track of your local, state, or national representative's Voting Record on the issue and holding him or her accountable at election time;

3) Signing up as poll monitors during election times to ensure that no one is illegally turned away from being able to cast a vote;

4) Participating in voting registration drives to ensure that everyone is registered to vote; and

5) Establishing a Sunday to the Polls Day, when on a particular Sunday your parish rents a bus or caravans to the polls after Sunday Service.

- Joe McDaniel


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