Alabama U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a handful of other congressional Democrats in announcing a new effort to “restore and advance” the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark piece of Civil Rights-era legislation.
The House Democrats are calling the plan “#RestoreTheV.O.T.E” short for “Restore the Voices of the Excluded.”
As part of the effort, the minority caucus will declare each Tuesday when Congress is in session ““Restoration Tuesday” in order to call attention to what they consider attacks on the rights of poor, and minority Americans to vote perpetuated by Republican-led legislators and governors around the country.
The move is designed to promote the Voting Rights Advancement Act, HR 2867 in the current Congress, which would restore provisions of the 1965 federal law which have been rolled back by the courts in recent years.
The new bill, for example, would reinstate Civil Rights monitoring in 13 states – Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, California, New York and Virginia – to keep an eye out for discriminatory ballot-access laws there, and provide a “rolling formula” by which states would be cycled in and out of the program according to voting rights progress.
HR 2867 would also restore so-called “preclearance” on the part of the U.S. Supreme Court, by which the high court would have the right to review any changes to voting laws in states with a history of racial discrimination in their laws.
“As a daughter of Selma, I am painfully aware that the injustices suffered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago have not been fully vindicated,” said Sewell. “The recent decision by the State of Alabama to close 31 DMV offices in spite of the state’s photo ID law is just one example of modern day barriers to voting that would have been precluded if federal preclearance provisions were still in effect.”
Sewell had previously called the decision to close auxiliary DMV offices, necessitated by statehouse budget cuts signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley, an effort to disenfranchise rural Alabamians in a fiery letter penned last month in which she called on the federal Department of Justice to investigate the move
The third-term congresswoman directly likened the closures to Jim Crow-era laws enacted by southern states in the 20th century to discourage blacks from voting.
“While we no longer have to count marbles in a jar or recite the names of all the counties, there are still laws and decisions that make it harder for people to vote,” said Sewell, naming common “poll tax”-style tactics employed before passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Sewell, first elected to represent Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, was first elected in 2010. She is the first African-American woman to serve in the state’s delegation.