Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Voting rights are still in peril

By Caroline Mimbs Nyce The Atlantic

In 1965, on the eve of the Voting Rights Act’s passage, King warned that the work would not end there.

“We are not so naive as to believe persons who have traditionally opposed our right to vote will now desist from intimidating us,” he wrote in a letter to the New York Amsterdam News. “There must be a change. There will be a change. For to deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.”

More than half a century later, the right to vote in the United States is once again in peril. The Voting Rights Act hangs by a thread thanks to a spate of Supreme Court rulings, including one this past summer. As my colleague Vann R. Newkirk II warns: “With a gutted VRA, we will have a country where the forces of disenfranchisement are nearly unstoppable. The result could prove to be more durable and intractable than Jim Crow at its worst.”

In recent months, Republicans have pushed a new wave of restrictive voting laws in response to dubious claims of election fraud, laws that disproportionately affect people of color. A possible corrective—new national voting legislation—is languishing on Capitol Hill. This week, the Senate is set to take up a pair of bills that are unlikely to pass, unless Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin reverse their position on the filibuster.

King’s family spent today in D.C. marching on behalf of bills that are intended to secure voting rights.

Further reading: For more on King’s life and legacy this MLK day, revisit our KING issue from 2018.

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