Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Written by Tysianna Marino
When I was growing up, anytime I ‘told a story’ my grandmother would look me in my eyes and say “Chile, I was born one day, not yesterday.” Her point - I couldn’t trick her into believing something that she knew wasn’t true. At this very moment, many of our Mississippi elected officials are in Washington ‘telling a story’ about the changes Mississippians want and need. What ‘story’ are they telling this week? That Mississippians don’t want laws protecting their right to vote.
In response to the discrimination happening across the nation at the polls, Congress passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 1965. This law did many things. However, what’s important for this conversation is that it outlawed many discriminatory practices that kept people from voting (example: literacy tests, poll taxes, and violence) and it required states with a history of voter discrimination to get approval from the federal government before they changed any laws effecting people’s right to vote.
For over 50 years this law blocked many state governments, including Mississippi, from passing laws that would directly prevent Black people, people of color, and poor people from having access to vote. But as y’all know the devil stays busy and in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that certain parts of the Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional. While the law stayed in place, this decision stripped away the parts of the law helped the government decide whether or not a state had “a history of voter suppression.” This basically means that in its current stage, the Voting Rights Act has no enforcement powers so states are free to pass whatever discriminatory laws they desire. But, there’s a chance to change that right now.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell from Alabama introduced a bill to congress named The Voting Rights Advancement Act. If congress passes this bill, it would:
Provide a clearer definition for what a “voting rights violation” means
Create a new formula to help the government decide which states to monitor for voting rights violations if;
-The state has 15 or more voting violation in the past 25 years.
-The state has 10 or more voting violations in the past 25 years with 1 violation being committed by the State itself
-The political subdivision (think city or district) has 3 or more voting violations in the past 25 years
Define the kinds of changes to the voting process that require approval from the feds which includes;
Changes in qualifications to vote. This means, if Mississippi wants to make laws requiring voter ID’s at the polls, they have to request permission and prove that it would not impact people of color unfairly. If Mississippi doesn’t provide meaningful evidence for the needed change, the federal government would deny the change.
Changes to the district lines. State legislators decide district lines which helps determine which elections you can participate in depending on where you live. In MS this often means that legislators will take predominantly Black communities and split them up into different districts which makes electing good candidates harder. MS is 37% black - THAT OVER A MILLION BLACK PEOPLE. This bill could reposition some of those split communities.
Changes to voting locations. This means that if MS wants to reduce or relocate voting locations in districts with more than 20% of minorities, they need approval from the federal government. Additionally, if they want to shorten the time citizens have to vote - whether its at a physical location or through an absentee ballot - they have to request permission.
Gives the Attorney General the right to assign observers to a local/state election to ensure states aren’t allowing violence and discrimination to prevent people from voting.
Congressman Bennie Thomson is the only representative from Mississippi who supports this bill and has demonstrated that he will vote in favor of these protections for Mississippians.
Every other representative has remained silent and will likely vote in opposition of your needs. Essentially, they are in Washington saying that Mississippians don’t need to be protected from discrimination. We all know they’re ‘telling a story’. Mississippians need these protections now more than ever. DMVs across the state are closing down which makes it harder for people to get IDs and this prevents them from being able to vote in districts that require voter ID.
Legislators have redrawn district lines, especially throughout the Mississippi Delta and Jackson area, making it harder for those communities to band together and get someone elected that has their best interest at heart.
So what can you do? Well, after you finish reading this you should call and email your representative and tell them to vote in favor of The Voting Right Advancement Act (H.R. 4). I know that people say this all the time but it actually matters. As a federal lobbyist I talk to congressional staff all the time. The thing that holds the most weight in how your representatives vote is constituent (YOU) contact. Make sure they know who you are and that you and your folk will hold them accountable. Next, you can get informed before the 2020 elections, get active by making sure all the fam knows who to vote for, and take as many people to the polls to vote for you as you can.