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Brady Marks 55 Years of the Voting Rights Act: A Call to Protect Our Democracy

Washington D.C, August 6, 2020 - Fifty-five years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, Brady calls for renewed attention to the on-going effort to disenfranchise Black and Brown voters in the United States and calls for greater action to ensure that our democracy and elections are inclusive of all Americans. Brady reiterates the call for online and same-day voter registration, universal vote-by-mail and absentee voting, early voting access, and universal enfranchisement for formerly incarcerated persons, as part of the Voting Access Saves Lives campaign. These are needed reforms that help to address the ongoing effort to repress voters and stop the voice of all Americans from being heard in our democracy. The anniversary of this historic and transformative bill underscores the urgent need for these reforms.

Brady President Kris Brown shared,

“When signing the Voting Rights Act, President Johnson declared that the law ‘flows from a clear and simple wrong’ and that ‘its only purpose is to right that wrong.’ Fifty-five years later, while we have made progress to right that wrong, there remains an active and concerted effort to suppress the votes of people of color, particularly of Black Americans. From gerrymandered districts to voter roll purges and purposeful under-resourcing of voting infrastructure, millions of Americans, including Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American voters; voters with disabilities; and students, face systemic barriers to casting their votes and participating in our democratic processes. These intentional barriers corrode the trust that many Americans place in our government, weaken our democracy, and reneges on the founding promises and principles of our republic.

President Johnson signed this law flanked by the men and women who risked their lives to deliver a nation that lived up to its promise, by working and fighting to secure voting rights for all Americans. Today, we acknowledge much more work must be done to ensure free and fair access to the ballot box by historically disenfranchised voters. The fight for gun violence prevention is inextricably tied to our voting access. That is why Brady is committed to ensuring that all Americans have the right to vote and the intent of the Voting Rights Act is fully realized in our electoral process.”

Brady Constitutional Litigation Counsel and Director of Racial Justice Kelly Sampson shared:

“Fifty-five years ago, John Lewis and many other men and women famously risked their lives to secure the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act was the fruit of their efforts, helping to finally deliver the ability to vote to many to whom it had been long denied. While we laid Rep. Lewis to rest less than a week ago, the causes he fought for his whole life for are, troublingly, still as present and pressing today as they were in 1965.

The concerted and purposeful efforts to disenfranchise Black Americans from exercising our right to vote continues to this day, resulting in lawmakers who are not beholden to their constituents or the issues that affect them most. It’s why the gun violence prevention movement has been clear that protecting democracy is inseparable from reducing gun violence, as the communities most affected by gun violence are often those who are actively excluded from our democratic processes. We need lawmakers who will address the concerns of their communities, that includes gun violence.

Rep. John Lewis told us that if we see something that is not right, we must do something. The active suppression of the right to vote is not right. It was not right in 1965 and, while it has a different form in 2020, it is not right today. Rep. Lewis fought for this cause his entire life and we must continue that fight. We need policies such as expanded access to early voting, universal mail-in-voting, and enfranchisement for previously incarcerated Americans. Rep. Lewis told us the right to vote is precious and we will honor that truth.”

The Team ENOUGH Executive Council shared:

“Young people have watched as the promises within the Voting Rights Act have been ignored, violated, or actively overturned during our lifetime. Today’s anniversary underscores the immediate need to reform our elections to ensure that all Americans are able to participate in our democracy. From barriers to prevent students from voting, like lack of access to early voting on campus, to targeted efforts to disenfranchise Black and Brown Americans, like the disenfranchisement of the previously incarcerated, our generation has watched as a concerted effort to deny full participation in our democracy has hindered necessary action on the issues that affect us most. Issues such as police reform, racial discrimination, and gun violence prevention have gone unaddressed as elected officials do not have to answer to the constituents most affected by their inaction.

As the generation that will be left to reckon with the consequences, we will not accept the status quo. We demand immediate action, including expansion of voter registration to include online and same-day voter registration, universal vote-by-mail and absentee voting, expanding early voting access, and universal enfranchisement for those with felony convictions. Today’s anniversary is a reminder that the fight for voting rights and full participation in our democracy continues.”

About the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered one of the most important and influential pieces of civil rights legislation of the last 100 years. The law enacted sweeping powers to the federal government to enforce changes to election laws across the country and banned many discriminatory laws and practices that had been designed to deny Black Americans their constitutional right to vote. Momentum for the law followed what’s known as ‘Bloody Sunday,’ when peaceful demonstrators marching from Selma to Montgomery were attacked by Alabama State Troopers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The attack was widely covered by the American media and led President Lyndon Johnson to push for a bill to protect voting rights from racist and discriminatory laws and practices. President Johnson signed the bill on August 6, 1965, surrounded by civil rights leaders such as John Lewis, who was famously injured on Bloody Sunday, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The bill was instrumental in removing many barriers that had prevented generations of Black Americans from voting.

In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated key portions of the 1965 law, stating “our country has changed.” Since this change, there have been numerous charges of certain laws and policies that result in voter suppression, that would have been banned and quickly remedied under the Act, highlighting the need for the restoration of this imperative law. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a measure that would restore the invalidated portions of the law, though comparable legislation has not been taken up by the Senate Majority.

About Voting Access Saves Lives:

The Voting Access Saves Lives campaign is a partnership between Brady, March For Our Lives and Team ENOUGH. The campaign and its accompanying report tailors recommendations to address historical inequities in our voting systems that have both purposefully and unintentionally disenfranchised people of color, particularly Black Americans, Native and Indigenous Americans, other minorities, lower income individuals, and individuals with disabilities, among many others. Ensuring that all of these voices are heard is vital to creating a society that addresses each of these communities’ needs and concerns, including gun violence.

The campaign emphasizes four key areas to increase access to the ballot and expand our democracy to include the voices of all Americans:

  1. Vote by mail & absentee voting
  2. Voter registration
  3. Early voting
  4. Restoration of voting rights

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Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.


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