Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old African-American woman from Philadelphia, suddenly cannot vote. Although she once marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the right to do so, and has dutifully cast a ballot for five decades, in this election year she may be denied this basic right. Under Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, Applewhite is no longer considered eligible. The Pennsylvania law requires that citizens present a state-issued photo ID card before voting, which, in Applewhite’s case, required that she first produce a birth certificate. After much trying, and with the help of a pro bono attorney, she was finally able to obtain her birth certificate — but on it, she is identified by her birth name Brooks, while her other forms of identification have her as Applewhite, the name she took after adoption. Because her 1950s adoption papers are lost in an office in Mississippi, and the state is unable to track them down, Applewhite still can’t get a Pennsylvania photo ID. She is therefore barred from voting in the November elections. Such stringent obstacles, particularly for African-Americans, were not so long ago the accepted rule. Despite the 15th and 19th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which extended the vote to black men and all women, respectively, election officials used poll taxes, literacy tests and other methods to deny this legal right. Then came the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson 47 years ago Monday, the Voting Rights Act empowered the federal government to oversee elections in states with racially discriminatory voting practices, and outlawed the use of literacy tests for all American voters. The landmark legislation not only broadened the franchise to African-Americans, it opened access to poor whites and others who had also been denied their right to participate in the electoral process.
These major social changes were hard-fought. Without protests by citizens who willingly confronted hatred and intimidation from furious mobs, as well as assault from billy clubs and fire hoses, it’s doubtful that the Voting Rights Act would have ever passed. Yet as we commemorate the anniversary, we must also remember that the fight to protect our vote continues. Across the country, efforts to suppress the turnout and registration of minority voters wage on, making that fight as urgent today as it was in the era of literacy tests and poll taxes.
Full Article: U.S. voting rights under siege – CNN.com.