Special to the Democrat by: John Zippert,
Congresswoman Terri Sewell address youth as part of the training to support ride to revive Section 5.
A group of sixty community activists from Alabama went to Washington, D. C. in six vans from Sunday to Tuesday (June 24-27, 2017) to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), HR 2948, introduced last week by our Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.
The bill was introduced on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby vs, Holder decision, which gutted Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore and advance Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to include 14 states and other political subdivisions. These areas would again be placed under the protection of Section 5 and be required to have any election changes pre-cleared by the Department of Justice before they could be implanted.
The VRAA updates the criteria and establishes a nationwide coverage formula for states and political subdivisions that would be subject again to the pre-clearance provisions of Section 5. Any state that has had 15 or more voting violations in the last 25-year period; or 10 or more voting violations, at least one of the violations committed by the state itself, would be covered. A political subdivision within a state can be covered if it commits 3 or more voting violations.
The bill also carefully defines what constitutes a voting rights violation and which election changes must be submitted for pre-clearance.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell said, “The VRAA is an advancement bill, it advances voting rights throughout the country. Under this bill, all eleven states that were part of the Confederacy, including Alabama, as well as other political subdivisions around the nation and on tribal lands would be covered and subject to the pre-clearance provisions.”
The VRAA would classify voting changes such as strict voter photo identification requirements, and voter registration requirements to be reviewed and possibly overturned if they were deemed to be more stringent than the requirements in Section 303b of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.The VRAA, HR 2948, has 182 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. They are all Democrats. And the companion legislation S.1490 in the Senate has 46 co-sponsors, also all Democrats, so far.
The grassroots voting activists visited more than 75 Congressional offices, including the membership of the House Judiciary Committee, Alabama’s delegation of six Republican members besides Sewell and our two Senators – Richard Shelby and Luther Strange. The grassroots activists left a package of information including factsheets on the legislation, a Senate Sketches by State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma, which deals with the “power of one vote”, and materials about the Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, the first weekend in March each year.
On Tuesday morning, the Alabama group joined by other activists in Washington from the Rural Coalition, Food and Water Watch, National Family Farm Coalition and other groups had a rally and press conference on the Capitol grounds facing the Cannon House Office Building on Independence Avenue and First Street NE.
The rally had many chants supporting the revival of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act along with civil rights freedom songs. Several Congresspersons, including Terri Sewell, G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Marc Veasey of Dallas, Texas and Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts addressed the rally. Congressman John Lewis drove by the rally on Independence Avenue and saluted the crowd.
On Monday night, the group had a meeting at Howard University Law School, which was addressed by several civil rights veterans, including former D. C. Congressman Walter E.
Fauntroy, Viola Bradford, who wrote for the Southern Courier newspaper in Montgomery, Antonio Harrison, a former Alabama State Senator, who lives and works in D. C. Professor Ardua of the Law School spoke on the need for reparations to address the continuing impact of slavery on Black people.
The Ride to Revive Section 5 was sponsored by the SOS Coalition for Justice and Democracy, Alabama New South Coalition and other local groups in Alabama. For more information or to make donations to help the cause – contact Shelley Fearson at 334-262-0932 or email: Alabamanewsouth Coordinator@ aol.com