THE BLOG
02/27/2013 04:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2013

With Voting Rights Under Assault, Act Must Not Be Disbanded

Today, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear opening arguments involving a constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act brought by Shelby County, Alabama. Shelby vs. Holder claims that our country has made such great advances in the area of Voting Rights -- specifically through the election of President Barack Obama -- that it is no longer necessary to facilitate the implementation of new voting standards to ensure the process remain fair. In other words, the county's position is that the goals of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have been fully realized.

With all due respect to the good folks of Shelby, Alabama: their county could not be further from the truth.

Congress has extended the provisions of Section 5 four times. And of the nine states covered in their entirety by Section 5, lawmakers in six have passed restrictive new voting laws since 2010.

Texas had its strict voter identification law overturned. Florida's attempt to reduce voting hours in a manner that would clearly discriminate against minorities was blocked by Section 5. South Carolina was forced to make changes in new restrictive laws. Even though there is little statistical evidence that the issue of voter fraud warrants the degree of attention it receives from popular media and certain legislative bodies -- in fact, there is significant evidence that these policies keep young people of color as well as other disenfranchised groups from the polls-- these policies have been introduced in various incarnations in states where minority access to the polls is most scrutinized.

Make no mistake -- disenfranchisement is still alive and kicking in Shelby County, Alabama, and in many other jurisdictions in America despite record voter turnout in 2008.

The Supreme Court simply must not reverse the gains made across our land. Tom Perez, the Justice Department Assistant Attorney General who currently heads the Civil Rights Division, expressed his goal to revitalize a division "demoralized and damaged by oppressive political leadership". It is no mistake that we come to examine voting access during a time when racial and ethnic minorities are less likely than Whites to have a government-issued ID.

Let me be clear: photo identification should not be required to vote. We should move to expand early voting, not limit it. In fact, I call for same day voter registration in New York State and throughout our country. The State of New York -- long perceived as one of the most progressive states in our nation -- should lead the nation in enacting this policy. The Voting Rights Act has been central in the transformation that has made America's diversity our strength -- let's not turn back the hands of time.

I applaud the work of the ACLU and President Obama for fighting to uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. We must stand vigilant to protect our voting access. I join the many voices calling on the Supreme Court to uphold the entire Voting Rights Act.

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