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Letter to the Senate on voting rights

June 24, 2014

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we would like to provide our views on tomorrow’s hearing, “The Voting Rights Amendment Act, S. 1945: Updating the Voting Rights Act in Response to Shelby County v. Holder.” We commend the Committee for holding a timely hearing on this important issue, which is 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 original Voting Rights Act (VRA)—enacted in response to persistent and purposeful discrimination through literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, threats, and violence—had remarkable success in ensuring access to the voting booth. For millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens, it eliminated discriminatory practices and removed other barriers to political participation.

A year ago, in Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a key provision. That ruling has severely undermined the law’s effectiveness, halted progress, and is threatening to turn back the clock.

Voter suppression and intimidation are very much alive in America. 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 voting.

In direct response to Shelby, the House and Senate worked together and crafted the Voting Rights Amendment Act (S. 1945/H.R. 3899)—modern, flexible, forward-looking legislation designed to protect 21st century voters. While it is not perfect, we are encouraged to see members on both sides of the aisle working together to update the VRA and protect the constitutional right to vote. Among other things, this legislation enhances the ability to apply preclearance review when needed, allows for greater transparency with nationwide notification, provides nationwide review and remedies for current discrimination, and halts discriminatory voting changes before they take effect.

We thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments and look forward to working with Congress to ensure no American is denied the right to vote or the equal protection under the law the Constitution provides.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations