AFL-CIO calls for restoration of the Voting Rights Act

The AFL-CIO’s executive council, which is meeting in Houston, Texas this week, unanimously passed a resolution Feb. 19 calling for the passage of strong federal legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act. The text of the resolution follows:

“The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is a centerpiece of our democracy that has played a crucially important role in helping to enforce the Constitution’s guarantee that “the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged … on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

“Last year’s decision by a bare majority of Supreme Court justices in Shelby County v. Holder ripped a gaping hole in the Voting Rights Act.  The court struck down the coverage formula that required some cities, states and jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to obtain prior federal approval for proposed election changes.  Without this preclearance requirement, jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination are able to pass and implement laws that suppress the vote-an affront to the basic American ideal that every citizen should have the right to be heard through his or her vote.

“Now, a bipartisan group of members of Congress have come together to introduce legislation-the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014-to provide for a new formula for the act’s preclearance provision.  Four states-Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana-would be covered immediately, and other states or localities could be added if they are found to have committed a threshold number of Voting Rights Act violations.   Voter suppression laws could be challenged successfully without having to prove discriminatory intent in passing the laws.  The legislation improves transparency about voting changes, requiring wide notice of voting changes made within 180 days of an election.  The legislation continues and strengthens the federal observer program, which is critical to combatting racial and language discrimination at the polls.

“At the same time, the legislation has shortcomings that need to be addressed as the legislative process moves forward.  The standards for what “counts” as a Voting Rights Act violation need to be broadened, and discriminatory voter ID laws should fully count as a Voting Rights Act violation.  We urge the sponsors to strengthen the legislation and address these flaws. 

“The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 represents an important first step in restoring the promise of the Voting Rights Act-an act whose mission and purpose remain as urgent and vibrant as ever.

“The labor movement has a long history of supporting voting rights and the Voting Rights Act.  We will continue to educate union members about the importance of voting rights and to mobilize union members in support of positive voting rights reforms.  We will continue to advocate, along with our allies at the state and federal levels, for improvements to our voting laws like same day registration, expanded early voting, voter registration modernization, and restoration of voting rights, that expand opportunities for voters to participate in our democracy.  And, along with our allies, we will continue to fight voter ID legislation and other voter suppression laws that restrict the right to vote.

Photo: The labor movement seeks to end situation where minority voters have to wait in line for hours to vote. AP