On 55th Anniversary of Voting Rights Act, U.S. Must Commit to Free, Safe, and Fair Elections

Statement by Michael Latner, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Aug 6, 2020

WASHINGTON (date)—Today marks the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—but the right to vote is under new threat and must be protected, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Michael Latner, senior fellow at the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

“On this day 55 years ago, one of the most significant bills in U.S. history was signed into law. The Voting Rights Act was the result of decades of dedicated civil rights activism and protest, in which Black visionaries—including Dr. Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, the late Hon. John Lewis, and many others—risked their lives to secure the right to vote for millions of Black people across the country. The Voting Rights Act was an effort to fulfill the oft-broken promises of America’s founding documents and of the 15th Amendment.

“Unfortunately, as we approach the 2020 general election, the right to vote safely in a fair election is under serious threat. We’re in the worst public health crisis in living memory, one that most burdens the communities of color and low-income communities who have been historically excluded from electoral participation. Too many states have restrictive and outdated voting systems that aren’t yet capable of making sure everyone can vote safely. Changes at the U.S. Postal Service are undermining the ability to vote by mail. And the White House and its allies are leading a cynical legal strategy to reduce voters’ ability to participate in the election, suing in multiple states to give voters fewer opportunities to have their vote counted. All of these factors are a threat to the hard-fought victories of the civil rights movement.

“We know what we need to do to hold a safe election in a pandemic: make online and same-day registration available everywhere, ensure ample and safe in-person opportunities both early and on Election Day, and give everyone the opportunity to vote securely by mail. Too many states are lagging, and the federal government has fallen short in providing the guidance and funding states need.

“The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are based on a straightforward premise—that government depends on the consent of the governed, and that leaders must be chosen by the people and held accountable by the people. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally made that premise a reality. We cannot let a free and fair election be undermined by a pandemic, by insufficient voting infrastructure, or by deliberate political attacks in legislatures and courts.”

Dr. Latner released a report last month identifying the policies needed to hold a safe election during a pandemic.