While most of the country will spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday remembering the peaceful nature and civil rights successes lodged by the late leader, voting rights advocates say this is a dark time for them. Many might spend Monday reflecting on King’s 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march to push for voting equality for black Americans, but voting rights advocates note that there has been a major setback in their world. In 2013, a Supreme Court ruling struck down the part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that indicates which parts of the country must have changes to voting rights laws cleared by the federal government or by a federal court. Preclearance was a requirement for states and communities that had a history of discrimination against black voters. Advocates viewed it as a necessary safeguard against discrimination at the ballot. Also, 33 states now have Voter ID laws in place with increased identification requirements for people seeking to cast ballots. The issue has been a controversial one for civil rights advocates, who maintain that some groups of Americans, including older people and minorities, are less likely to have the sort of identification that would be required.
This year will mark the first presidential election with these new measures in place, said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who plans to spend the King holiday volunteering in the Washington area.
Said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, “In his 1957 speech ‘Give Us the Ballot,’ Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of ‘all types of conniving methods … still being used …’ to prevent blacks from registering to vote as ‘a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.’ “
What many view as the gutting of the Voting Rights Act has prompted civil rights advocates to take action. A coalition of 100 organizations including the NAACP will stage a string of protests, acts of civil disobedience and even a mid-April march from Philadelphia to Washington to garner momentum to reverse those setbacks, particularly as the country looks toward the presidential election, said Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP.
Full Article: Voting rights advocates observe somber King holiday.