Saturday, August 06, 2005

John Kerry: 40 Years After the Voting Rights Act, Let’s Keep the Vote Alive in America

A must read, recommended by Indie Liberal:

Commentary: 40 Years After the Voting Rights Act, Let’s Keep the Vote Alive in America
Date: Thursday, August 04, 2005
By: Sen. John Kerry, Special to

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more coverage of the 40 year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, read H.R. Harris' article, “The Voting Rights Act, 40 Years Later -- A Lesson in Black Leadership.”

Forty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in our nation’s history. This precious right was earned by brave American citizens who risked their lives to register voters, who marched, who stared down Bull Connor’s police dogs, who faced the billy clubs and tear gas and beatings and lynching, and some who even lost their lives fighting to open up the polls and make the right to vote real for every American.

Tomorrow, four decades later, America’s civil rights, religious and labor leaders, along with thousands of our fellow citizens will gather in Atlanta. They will march to Keep the Vote Alive in America – to celebrate what we have achieved, and highlight how far we still have to go.

I hope as we consider our next Supreme Court justice, we remember that the journey toward civil rights continues. We’re not doing nearly enough to make our election system the shining example it must be for the rest of the world, or the unwavering guardian of liberty it must be at home.

In September, the Senate will consider President Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. From Brown v. Board to Bush v. Gore, we know the Supreme Court is critically important when it comes to voting rights and civil rights. Before the Senate confirms John Roberts, we need to understand where he stands on these issues. So far, what we’ve learned is troubling. Papers from Roberts’ time in the Reagan White House show, as the Washington Post recently reported, ”a younger Mr. Roberts expressing hostility to affirmative action programs, and to a broad application of the Voting Rights Act.”

Now, the White House is denying Senators access to Roberts’ papers. This is a lifetime appointment. Doesn’t President Bush owe it to those who gave their lives in the name of civil rights to put all the information out there for the Senate to consider?

The simple truth is our democracy is only as strong as the people’s faith that their voice counts and their votes will be counted. No one in this country should walk out of a voting booth on Election Day and fear that their vote might not be counted. No eligible voter should approach their polling place and fear that they will be intimidated or denied their right to vote. No American should lose their chance to vote because the lines were too long due to a shortage of machines.

Barriers to voting are an insult to the freest nation in the world. Faulty and insufficient voting machines are an embarrassment to the greatest democracy on earth. That’s the bottom line, we have to do better, and we have to act now. There are important elections across America coming up in 2005 and 2006.

All Americans should insist on reform at every level to strengthen voting rights, stop voter suppression, and secure funding for election officials to purchase reliable and verifiable voting machines so that the discrepancies found in Ohio never happen again. President Bush and Republican leaders owe it to the American people to read the report by the voting rights team, and use their control of Washington to take action on real electoral reform pending in the House and Senate.

That means passing the Count Every Vote Act of 2005, which seeks to end absurdly long lines, the erroneous purging of voters, voter suppression and intimidation, and unequal access to the voting process. The Count Every Vote Act would also incorporate a voter-verified paper trail for use by all individuals, including voters for whom English is a second language, illiterate voters and voters with disabilities -- and mandates national standards in a variety of areas, including the registration of voters and the counting of provisional ballots. More information on this important legislation is available at

Real electoral reform also means fully funding the Help America Vote Act, funding the activities of the Election Assistance Commission, and helping states invest in better voting machines with paper trails. That means putting partisan politics aside and joining together as proud citizens to eliminate barriers to voting, encourage the greatest level of civic participation possible, and restore the confidence of the American people.

I hope Washington can come together to get this done because there is no greater right than the right to vote. We’ve helped so many other nations establish their own Independence Days. We've stood up for democratic values across the globe -- in the Philippines where we stood against Ferdinand Marcos for free elections; in South Africa, where we fought for years to break the back of apartheid and empower citizens to vote; in Iraq and Afghanistan where we rejoiced as many voted for the first time in their lives; and in the West Bank and the Ukraine, where the world turned to the United States to monitor elections and ensure that the right to vote was protected.

Today, American troops put their lives on the line to give people the right to vote in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world, just as our civil rights leaders did 40 years ago here at home. We here at home now must do our part to honor our great legacy of fighting for freedom and civil rights, and do everything we can to strengthen democracy for all Americans. Those Americans who march in Atlanta tomorrow do just that, and all of us should honor them by lending voice to our values.

NOTE: On July 29th, sent out an email to raise funds for The Keep the Vote Alive March in Atlanta tomorrow, August 6th! Get more info on The Keep The Vote Alive March here.


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