Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the historic piece of legislation that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This law was created due to the racial injustices that African Americans faced when attempting to register to vote. Though before 1965 African Americans were in Congress and could vote, they were not protected from unfair election practices. These practices resulted in mainly southern African Americans being turned away from the polls simply because of their race.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 in short, enforces the 14th and 15th amendments. Which address equal protection of laws for all citizens and prohibits federal and state governments from denying one the right to vote based on their race. In addition, this act prohibits all state and local governments from creating legislation and rules that discriminate against minorities. This act is regarded as one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history and has done volumes for African American’s rights.
Unfortunately, our current voting landscape is one that is filled with uncertainty, with laws that restrict many minorities abilities to vote. Today the voting process is viewed as confusing, difficult and to some pointless. Democracy is one of the founding principles of this country, and its time to be treated as such is overdue. Our leaders have lacked in creating policies that promote voting and democracy, but instead have put forth legislation that restricts and limits our right to vote. It is time to rid of restrictions such as confusing registration requirements and photo identification laws. If voting is truly our right, it is time that minorities and under served citizens be able to vote freely without limitations.
In 2014, voter turnout was 36.7%, the lowest since World War II, per the Washington Post. The lack of voter participation says more about the state politics than the mindset of the American electorate. Our elected officials need to come up with new strategies to entice the American people to vote. These new ideas can include making election day a federal holiday. Election day signifies that all is right with the nation. Voting means that citizens opinions are heard for all elected officials to hear. It is time that we celebrate the day where Americans exercise their 1st amendment right, freedom of opinion. Making election day a federal holiday says that the government is serious about hearing the voices of all Americans.
It took the Federal government over one hundred years to recognize and change the wrongs that were occurring to African Americans at the polls. Even today we are still being attacked by local officials who place restrictions on our ability to vote. The only way to alter this injustice is through voting, and not just in Presidential elections every four years. Local elections are equally important as they decide who impacts our communities and those close to us at home. Having an African American president speaks of progress and history, but having African American mayors, city councilwomen and police chiefs screams of change. It is time for a new Voting Rights Act to come to fruition, voting is a right shared by all people and adjustments need to be made to ensure that. Voicing our frustration with politicians is simply not enough. Elected officials won’t hear us or tend to our concerns until we cast a ballot, our vote speaks louder than words.
Noah Lyons is a native of Washington, D.C. and a rising junior at Howard University pursuing a degree in Political Science with a minor English. Noah is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, National Political Science Honor Society and the Vice President of the Howard University Chapter of College Democrats.