“This most basic right of all is the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country is in large measure the history of expansion of the right to all of our people.”
President Johnson delivered these words in his eloquent speech to the full Congress on March 15, 1965, a week after African Americans were attacked while preparing to march to Montgomery to protest voting rights discrimination. On August 6, 1965 President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, empowering millions of Americans to fully participate in our democracy. The progress made possible by the Voting Rights Act is undeniable. Literacy tests, poll taxes and other obstacles used at the time which excluded millions of eligible voters are a thing of the past. In 2012, we saw record turnout by African American and Latino voters. We elected a record number of Asian Americans to Congress, and nearly 10 million more women than men reported casting a vote. That’s progress. But as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we still have work to do. Voting rights are once again under attack.
Hundreds of bills have been introduced in dozens of states to make it harder for citizens to cast ballots including aggressive purging of voter rolls, unfair voter ID requirements and the reduction or elimination of early voting. These measures disproportionately impact the same communities that the Voting Rights Act sought to protect.
We must remain committed to not just defending but advancing voting rights. That begins with registering far more citizens and providing them a ballot.
The California State Senate is currently considering a bill I am sponsoring that would automatically register California citizens when they obtain or renew a driver’s license – a measure inspired by a law recently enacted by the state of Oregon.
Automatic registration uses technology to build on the federal motor voter law. Allowing for the systematic registration of eligible voters will make our voter rolls more accurate. When passed, this measure could add more than 6 million new voters to the rolls. This would build on the success of our online voter registration efforts and the opportunity for individuals to register to vote when applying for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.