CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On the 54th anniversary of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, dozens of individuals rallied outside of the federal courthouse in Charleston on Tuesday to protest amendments to the act that they say has suppressed voters.
Leaders from the WV Citizens for Clean Elections (WVCCE) and the state and local NAACP led the rally, calling on Congress to restore the protections in the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that were taken away following the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case in 2013.
“This is on the basis of the Shelby v. Holder case of 2013,” Rick Martin, Charleston NAACP President told MetroNews. “Since that time a number of states have enacted measures that served to suppress the vote particularly of poor people and people of color.”
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional. The question of the case was if any federal requirements within the VRA were constitutional.
Section 4 of the VRA looked at states and sections of the nation where racial discrimination in voting had been more prevalent. These provisions in Section 4 guaranteed the right to register and vote to those with limited English proficiency and those who have not finished a certain grade level.
Section 4 also looked at places where tests were mandatory to determine a voter’s eligibility.
“Hundreds of thousands of voter registrations have been purged across the country,” Martin said since the 2013 ruling.
In 2017, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office removed more than 47,000 names from the voter rolls. He made an appearance on MetroNews ‘Talkline’ that week to explain why it was necessary to purge.
Former President Barack Obama, in office at the time of the 2013 ruling released a statement at that time against the ruling, “I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.
Martin and others spoke of the Voting Rights Advancement Act introduced in Congress earlier this year as many held signs urging passage of HR4.
The organizers of the event said in a release that HR4 would restore their ability to prevent racial discrimination in voting so that they can build the truly representative 21st-century democracy they deserve.
Leaders encouraged everyone in attendance to get out and vote in the state primary election in May of next year followed by the general election in November 2020.
Other organizations on hand were Call to Action for Racial Equality: CARE Coalition, Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, OVEC-Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, Rise Up WV, and WV Association for Justice.
A released statement from Julie Archer, the coordinator for WVCCE said, “The right to vote is under more attacks today than any time in recent memory. We also see our courts under attack. Big-money and shadowy legal organizations are ramping up their efforts to pack both the federal and state courts with partisans who are okay with undermining our right to vote.
“Fair-minded judges and courts free from shadowy influences are key to protecting our legal and constitutional rights to vote. That’s why we urge everyone to demand that Congress pass HR4, and to do all they can to safeguard their right to vote and democracy itself. One way to do that is by joining in our effort to promote our Pro-Democracy Anti-Corruption platform.”
Groups at the rally handed out voter registration papers to anyone interested on Tuesday.