San Diego Marks 50th Anniversary Of Voting Rights Act
California celebrating the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act by restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of people convicted of felonies. This landmark legislation that's credited with transforming the American electorate has been on the decline in recent years, challenges and a Supreme Court decision have tested the limits of the voting rights act and chipped away at its power. Joininging our state assemblywoman Shirley Weber who represents the 79th district. Lori Shellenberger , voting rights director, ACLU of California, Welcome. What to the voting rights act of 1965 do? The interesting thing is the right to vote had always existed in the 15th amendment. What happened was people found ways to get around it in terms of poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. For almost 100 years, millions of individuals were disenfranchised. The voting rights act made it illegal for people to put barriers up for people to vote. As a result of that, it changed the landscape of the South in terms of who could vote and who got elected. It should be heralded as the most significant piece of legislation that took place in the 20th century. I'm going to ask you to elaborate on the kinds of barriers that used to be put in front of mainly African-American voters who wanted to go to the polls and cast their ballots. The thing that was interesting, literacy tests, people were asked questions like can you tell me the 14th worked on on page so and so of the Constitution? Individuals who have law degrees or higher education given this kind of test the they could not pass. Whites came in and maybe the only test they were asked was what is your name. They could see their name and oftentimes could write, just an ex-, and they were allowed to vote. I parents never voted until they moved to California because of literacy tests, sometimes poll taxes with exorbitant fees enable in order to be able to vote. They often gerrymandered areas as well so if you had a population that represents 60% of a certain district you have that so drawn up that maybe only represented 5%. Into subvention -- it disenfranchised entire peoples. What happens we saw throughout the South was in franchise length of millions of individuals, we saw the election of black officials the first time and individuals in Congress as a result. How it the changes dramatic. In 1965, Mississippi these literacy test resulted in all that 7% of African-Americans being registered to vote. Within two years of President. Johnson signing the voting rights act, you had 60% of African-Americans registered to vote. It was about sweeping change. In 1965 he only had six African-Americans serving in Congress, that number doubled within three election cycles. He had over the course of many years states that were subject to approval for any change in their election activists. The Department of Justice, they stopped more than 86 laws the redeemed to inhibit voting from being enacted. Before I go on to the changes that have recently taken place, let me ask you how do you think this dramatic change that this piece of legislation brought about have change our political landscape of the You see the large number of elected to office. The kind of things they put forward in terms of legislation or change with its education, but rights, etc. It in franchise that these people to take control of their communities and the growth of the middle-class population in terms of African-Americans became significant as a result of their right to vote. Their participating in the process of their own government. That's significant and very important. One can never underestimate the importance of voting and its impact on everything that happens. When you're not voting population, those in office don't have to pay you any attention. You can't impact their lives. As a result you have no power or ability to influence those decisions. That's what I tell you people today with the right to vote. When you don't vote, you can be ignored. When you have issues, people don't pay attention to it because they know there is no action you can take directly to affect their lives as elected officials. It really empowers the population to take charge of their lives. Two years ago, the US Supreme Court heard a challenge to the voting rights act. Can you explain that? It's a heartbreaking decision for those of the voting rights community and Americans in our democracy. It was a blow that struck at the heart of the voting rights act. There is a provision that required those dates of the history of discrimination and other jurisdictions, it had to submit any change in the electoral practice to the Department of Justice. That can range from the polling sites are open to states that had to submit their we just get dinged plans -- redistricting plans to the trumpet of justice. -- To the department of justice. Supreme Court disabled the decision. In the two years since it was disabled, 10 of those 15 states, once they got the green light to do whatever they wanted, they went crazy. The ACL rule -- the ACLU is litigating against South Carolina. Those states are not subject to government oversight. It's been a bit of a free-for-all. Just today, the news came down they struck down a Texas voter ID law. One of the laws you are talking about that were enacted. Specifically because it's in violation of the voting rights act. I'm going to ask you why do you think so many states seem to try to make it more difficult to vote and eliminating early voting and in some cases early voting registration. Requiring people to show an ID card when they go up to vote. Two we have indications that have been lots of voter fraud and things like this that the states are trying to correct. We don't have evidence of voter fraud. The reality is, if people believe when we impose -- who shows to vote are people of color. Texas evidence was clear it was targeted to the African-American and Latino population in Texas. When we tried to do things in terms of making sure everyone has the right to vote, our colleagues don't want to do it because they know it will increase the voting rolls for Democrats or people of color and those who are poor. One way to keep individuals empowers is to keep them away from the polls. It's really a direct attack on those populations and their right to vote. We haven't had fraud for the great outbreak of things occurring. We've had people trying to be more restrictive in terms of keeping individuals out. Texas was interesting because she could identify yourself to have neck and license but you could use your school IT or other forms of ID. Who's giving the gun license. Is basically a large white population. How can that be better than a school IT or something you got one official government agency? It's those kinds of things that says this is an effort to control the voting population, to control the powerbase. Oftentimes, we are trying to restrict those who are poor, people of color. It's really tragic. There's no crime to voting. We should what every American to vote. Even many of the experts recommit at felony you can no longer vote my you are disenfranchised for other. When we look at that, the vast majority of prisoners are African-American males and Latinos, we're talking about disenfranchising millions and millions of individuals who may have committed crimes under 18 years old and they are down for the rest of their life from voting in this country. That gets to the heart of our own revolution which talks about taxation without representation. Here in California, we have bucked the trend in recent news because there's been an expansion of voting rights to some people. I was exciting day yesterday for Californians. The battle we have been fighting together for a few years now. The prior Secretary of State had issued a directive that excluded nearly 60,000 Californians from voting because they were sentenced under a new California sentencing law that senses low level felons decanting supervision. We filed a lawsuit challenging the one that case. Only people in prison or on parole are ineligible to vote. The former Secretary of State thought that, filed an appeal to affirmatively continue to disenfranchise these people. Secretary of State made the decision yesterday to a draw that challenge. From this point forward, once that's approved by the court, only those in prison are on parole or ineligible. For those people opposed to the Supreme Court decision, is there any move in Congress to shore up that part of the voting rights act? There is act introduced last year.'s reach adduced this year. It's idling in Congress. It's an effort to fix the voting rights act and that's still possible to reinstate that preclearance requirement. It's really languishing right now. In the meantime, we're working state I states to fight against discriminatory voting rights laws. It's a much tougher battle because we have two go to court and litigate that. It's pretty easy to point out certain states with their record of voting rights violations. Here in California, what would you like to see change? The thing is interesting in California, we had some areas with difficulty, California was a part of some of those areas that were there. California generally will allow ex-felons to vote. Is so much misinformation about that. When a person finishes the parole, we tried this legislatively, does probation officers Council their former inmates that you have the right to vote you should voting rights card. His information to register those individuals to vote. We went to make it easier for them to vote. People talking about basically making it a part of your birthright when you're born, your registered to vote at birth. When he turned 18, we send you a card saying congratulations now you can vote. If we believe in democracy, we need to clear everything away and make sure it's not some big mystery, that's some event that occurs they had to figure out how to get it done. It's really fundamental to being in America and that is the right to vote. We must do that. Is a celebration scheduled tonight for the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act. We have a celebration this evening and baby Baptist church, there will be performance, dancing, music. This is the 50th anniversary and has been a major piece of legislation that has changed the landscape of California and the nation. We also know there's been some entrenchment. People have not registered to vote as they should, they have not participated in the voting process. We would digitize our community -- go to energize our community. We have to continue to say every day the right to vote is the most precious right and obligation you have. With that, we have to kick off a voter registration drive. With energize people so we have a great turnout and we can once again live up to the legacy of our ancestors who fought and died for the right to vote. Thank you to our guests Shirley Weber, member, California Assembly Lori Shellenberger , voting rights director, ACLU of California and.
California marked the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act as election officials reversed a policy Tuesday, restoring voting rights to nearly 60,000 people convicted of felonies.
Organizers will host an event celebrating the anniversary on Wednesday night. They said it will be a reminder of the struggles behind the civil rights legislation signed by President Lyndon Johnson that prohibited racial discrimination in voting. The event will also remind the public of the challenges still facing minorities in voting.
"The interesting thing is the right to vote had always existed but people found ways around it," Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday. "In essence for hundreds of years, thousands of people were disenfranchised."
Weber, who is hosting the event, said the legislation was the most significant law created in the 20th century.
"One can never underestimate the impact of voting," Weber said. "We want to energize them (event attendees). The right to vote is the most precious right and obligation you have."
Lori Shellenberger, voting rights director for the American Civil Liberties Union in California, said only 7 percent of African Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote before the Voting Rights Act went into effect. After 1965, 60 percent were registered to vote.
Shellenberger also said the number of African Americans in Congress was six in 1965 but the number doubled within three election cycles.
The anniversary celebration starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Bayview Baptist Church, located on 6134 Benson Ave. in San Diego. Attendees will hear from guest speakers and see a re-enactment of the signing of the historical legislation.