We Can’t Talk About MLK Without Talking About Voting Rights

By Aryana Goodarzi

This MLK day, we should talk about all that he did, along with all that still needs to be done.

Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act 

We want to think about how we can continue MLK’s momentum, specifically through voting rights. The newly combined Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act is how to do it. However, it has become apparent that changes need to be made to the filibuster in order to do this. The filibuster is meant to keep a measure from being brought up for a vote, and it has also been historically used to get in the way of civil rights legislation. 

Voting rights were very personal to MLK, as he, John Lewis, and the civil rights advocates shed blood for the equal right of all Americans to vote. Equitable voting rights will also be definitive to continuing and increasing momentum from MLK. The power of the vote will get in the way of racist measures, and their politicians, from becoming laws.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would modernize, but also restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, such that states and localities with a history of voter suppression much get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before changing election laws. 

Needing pre-clearance before introducing a new voting law was seen as unconstitutional in 2013 under Shelby County v. Holder. Given that we were not seeing anti-voter rights laws (as much) at the time of the Supreme Court case, it was seen as an outdated formula. However, the explosion of voter suppression laws that came after Shelby County v. Holder confirmed that we had not been seeing voter suppression laws, not because politicians weren’t trying to suppress voters, but because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 itself, doing what it is supposed to do.

One-Person, One-Vote and Free and Fair Elections

Both gerrymandering, done to increase the power of one vote while also diminishing that of other votes, and voter suppression laws are not very “one-person, one-vote” and “free and fair elections” of the United States. Gerrymandering exploits the deeper meaning of “one-person, one-vote,” which is talking, not about the technicality that voters only get to vote once but, about the power that each vote holds. 

We cannot talk about equitable voting rights without talking about Martin Luther King Jr., and we cannot talk about MLK without talking about voting rights.

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