Ninety-four years ago, on February 14, 1920, pioneering suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt founded the League of Women Voters to help ensure that all Americans were given equal access to the ballot box. Within just a few months, Congress would ratify the 19th Amendment, at last granting American women the vote after decades of advocacy.
But the League's work was not yet done -- and it's still not done today. Chapman Catt founded the League upon the belief that "everybody counts" in our nation's democracy. That's why the League refuses to remain silent as voters across the country -- women and men, young and old, rich and poor alike -- are experiencing grave barriers to the vote.
Today's barriers to the ballot might look different than they did when the League was founded 94 years ago, but they remain threats to our democracy all the same. Present-day voter suppression measures were bolstered last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder gutted a key provision of the pivotal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. Long hailed as the "crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement," the VRA was effectively used for decades to strike down attempts to restrict minority voters. As soon as the Supreme Court released its ruling, states were free to move forward with suppressive voting measures, including those that had previously been barred as racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act. Months later, the fallout from the Supreme Court's decision continues.
Like the dedicated suffragists who helped form the League of Women Voters 94 years ago, today's League members will not be silent in the face of attempts to weaken our democracy and block access to the polls. Since June, the League has joined with sister voting rights advocates in pushing Congress to stop the flood of voter suppression and repair the Voting Rights Act.
Fortunately, Congress has started to act. Last month, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA). The legislation provides critical, common sense solutions to fight off modern-day voter suppression efforts and repair the Voting Rights Act. Its crucial steps to ensure fair and equal access to the vote include:
- Blocking potentially discriminatory voting changes before they impact voters. One of the key strengths of the Voting Rights Act was that changes to election laws were vetted for discrimination before they were implemented, thereby preventing it from taking effect in the first place. The Voting Rights Amendment Act will create new mechanisms to achieve this important goal.
- Addressing discriminatory voter suppression measures wherever they may appear, and not just within states or jurisdictions with long histories of voter discrimination. Before it was gutted, the Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions with historic patterns of racial discrimination to seek federal approval, or preclearance, for any changes to their election laws. Modern voter suppression measures are increasingly taking hold outside of those areas, and they, too, must be stopped, which is why the VRAA creates a new formula to include states in the review process.
- Ensuring that voters have full access to the ballot box by keeping them educated and informed of changes to their local elections laws. Following the Supreme Court's decision, the nation has seen a wave of changes to elections laws at both the state and local levels. The Voting Rights Amendment Act ensures transparency and extends public notice, to inform and educate voters across the country on any changes that might impact their ability to exercise their right to vote.
The League asks Americans everywhere to urge Congress to act swiftly to protect voters and pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The bipartisan legislation makes it clear that equal access to the ballot box is about fairness and equality -- something that Carrie Chapman Catt knew when she founded the League of Women Voters 94 years ago. "The vote is a power, a weapon of offense and defense, a prayer," said Chapman Catt -- an assertion that is true regardless of a voter's political beliefs or party affiliation.
Nearly 100 years after the League was founded, we continue to hold fast to the belief that our nation is at its strongest when the voices of all voters are heard. "There will never be a true democracy," said Chapman Catt, "until every responsible...adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own...voice in government." The Voting Rights Amendment Act is critical step in ensuring just that.