March on Washington Anniversary Spotlights Voting Rights

  • August 26, 2013
  • By Jake Grovum (2)
Sarah Lee of Columbus, Ohio, right, stands next to an Ohio State flag she brought to the rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. (AP)

The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington has brought racial justice, social equality and many of the civil rights battles from decades ago back into the national spotlight.

And with that new attention, the nationwide battle over voting rights and elections administration has become immersed in the broader march commemoration. Many of those marking the occasion are drawing connections between the civil rights battles that dominated the 1950s and 1960s with the state-by-state fight against new elections laws that opponents see as an attempt to revisit and reinvigorate many of the voter-suppression tactics employed decades ago.

Attorney General Eric Holder, during one event marking the 1963 March on Washington, made reference to these fights. His comments came just days after his Justice Department opened a new front in the voting wars by taking an aggressive stance against Texas' strict voter ID law, which prosecutors called racially motivated in both effect and intent in court filings.

“This morning, we affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our nation's quest for justice – until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules or practices,” Holder said Saturday.

The attention to voting rights will extend well beyond this week's march commemorations. With that in mind, catch up on the latest in the ongoing battle over elections and voter ID with these stories from Stateline:

  • In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that struck down a central provision of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department and Obama administration have taken an aggressive stance against strict state elections laws, with Texas as the first target. But how far will those efforts go? Stateline looked at the issue here.
  • Beyond voter ID laws and other similar measures, a new battle could soon emerge with health care exchanges under the federal health care law. As Stateline reported, whether states will have to register voters is an open questions, experts say, and could be the next front in the states vs. Washington elections fights.
  • There have been some positive developments, in the eyes of voting rights activists, in recent years. Some Republican-controlled states have been loosening restrictions, for example, and Democrats in states like Colorado are taking steps to ease registration and make voting more accessible.
  • Yet more fights could emerge. After an initial defeat at the Supreme Court, Arizona (joined by Kansas) filed suit against the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the Motor Voter Act. That case focuses specifically on whether states can go above and beyond federal guidelines to determine whether a perspective voter is a citizen. But it could have far-reaching implications when it comes to federal control over states' voting and elections procedures.

A wide gap exists between white and black Americans on how much progress the country has made since 1963. A Pew Research Center survey found 1-in-4 blacks said “a little/none” progress toward Martin Luther King's dream of racial equality has been made in 50 years. For whites, just one in 10 felt the same. Almost 80 percent of blacks said “a lot” more needs to be done to achieve racial equality, almost double the number of white Americans who think so.