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Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Re-enacting Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

July 17, 2013

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to provide our views in advance of today’s hearing, “From Selma to Shelby County: Working Together to Restore the Protections of the Voting Rights Act.” We commend the Committee for holding this timely and important hearing on an issue critical to our democracy.

NEA believes the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted, is the most basic tenet of a democratic society. The Voting Rights Act—enacted in response to persistent and purposeful discrimination through literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, threats, and violence—has had remarkable success in ensuring access to the voting booth. For millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens, it has eliminated discriminatory practices and removed other barriers to political participation.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder threatens to halt that progress and could even turn back the clock. In effect, it paralyzes one of the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act while giving credence to the myth that our nation has achieved racial parity. We urge Congress to re-enact Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act with a formula that reflects the unfortunate current reality: racial discrimination persists at the polls and is embedded in the fabric of many communities. In addition, we urge Congress to enact legislation that opens access to the ballot box through system modernization and simplification. Steps critical to ensuring that every citizen is able to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote include same-day registration, alleviating burdens for people with disabilities, providing training for poll workers, protecting against deceptive practices and intimidation, and establishing a national hotline for voting-related issues.

Even before the ruling in Shelby v. Holder, it was clear that voter suppression and intimidation are very much alive in our nation. In recent years, we have seen an unprecedented number of anti-voter initiatives in state legislatures—proposals and laws enacted that require photo identification, eliminate same-day registration, shrink early voting windows, change student voting requirements, and make it hard for people to vote in other ways. During the 2012 presidential election campaign, we saw a deeply troubling increase in misleading and fraudulent information about elections, voter intimidation, and robocalls designed to suppress the vote guaranteed every citizen by the U.S. Constitution.

NEA is working aggressively to call attention to and combat initiatives and practices that deny or restrict the right to vote. We commend those groups who are doing the same. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the nation's oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization, is circulating a petition urging Congress to act now to protect voting rights. The petition, http://www.naacp.org/page/s/vra-no-voting-rights, already has over 450 signatures. Communities of color, and young, women, elderly, and disabled voters are at risk. This is a critical issue for our democracy. 

We thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments and look forward to working with the Congress to ensure fair and open elections across our nation.

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations