Decades ago, faith leaders and church activists served a critical role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The act, after being signed into law, lowered many historic voting barriers disenfranchising communities of color, eliminated legal discrimination in voting, and ensured more equal access to the ballot box. This law was a major victory for leaders committed to civil rights and has been responsible for many better voting practices over the last 50 years. In 2013, a divided U.S. Supreme Court froze important provisions of the VRA, blocking some of the oversight tools that restricted discrimination in voting. The justices’ decision came out of concern that the decades old bill still relied on out-of-date authorization data, and it recommended Congress to consider "another formula based on current conditions." Subsequently, in the absence of congressional action, voter purges, burdensome ID laws, restrictions on provisional ballots and other tactics are remerging in many parts of the nation. In particular, these laws disproportionately impact people of color, the elderly, students, the disabled and low-income workers. Congress now must update the VRA or risk further expanding voter disenfranchisement across the nation. Election integrity is an important element of democracy, but reemerging tactics may not necessarily increase accountability. Some reports estimate about 31 credible cases of voter fraud out of a billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014. Discouraging or preventing people from exercising the right to vote stands squarely at odds with Lutheran values on civic life, racial justice, inclusivity, and equality. In the ELCA Social Policy Resolution, 'Voting Rights to All Citizens,' the church has affirmed that, "we are a church called to act by speaking out as advocates and engaging in national and local efforts to guarantee the right to vote to all citizens.” In the 40 years since the passage of the VRA, people of faith are still marching to demand congressional action on the Voting Rights Act. As we near the next election day on November 6th, now is a critical time to remind Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and renew our nation’s commitment to ending discrimination in our civil life.
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