This August marks the fortieth anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Upon sending the bill to Congress, Lyndon Johnson stated, “But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America…to secure for [African-Americans] the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too.”
Yet, with approximately 4.7 million US citizens still disenfranchised–a vastly disproportionate number of them African-American–the promise of the Voting Rights Act remains unfulfilled. Today, 13 percent of all American black men are ineligible to vote due to draconian felony disenfranchisement laws.
But last week, Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa announced that on July 4th, he will restore voting rights to thousands of Iowans, reversing an unjust state law that imposes lifetime disenfranchisement for anyone convicted of a felony
Reform was badly needed in Iowa. Despite the state’s two percent black population, 25 percent of those affected by the disenfranchisement law were African-American–the highest percentage in the country. “This is a huge victory for voting rights and for civil rights,” says Catherine Weiss, of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, one of the partners in the Right To Vote Campaign “… it is a bold strike for justice and equality.”
In March, Nebraska also overturned its lifetime disenfranchisement law for convicted felons, and currently only four states–Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia–continue to uphold this absurdly punitive law. For information about felony disenfranchisement laws in your state, click here and to see what you can to be a part of this new wave of the voting rights movement, click here.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.