Taking a Stand on Voting Rights

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Acting on a pair of motions by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday backed proposed federal and state legislation that would strengthen voter rights and modernize the election process, and took a stand on the “one person, one vote” principle under debate at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both motions were approved just days after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 marked its 50th anniversary. “It is important that the Board of Supervisors continually improve and modernize the voting process in ways that ensure compliance with the spirit and intent of the Act,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

His first motion directed the county’s advocates in Washington D.C. to support H.R. 2867, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 pending before the U.S. Congress. The bill calls for updating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address modern-day voting discrimination; and for strengthening protections accorded to historically disenfranchised voters, voters with disabilities, and voters who rely on languages other than English.

The same motion also instructed county counsel to track the Evenwell v. Abbott case awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under debate is whether only eligible voters – not the entire population – should be counted in drawing legislative districts, which would lead to millions of ineligible children and immigrants being politically marginalized.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas believes the lawsuit attacks the “one person, one vote” principle, and he called for filing or joining an amicus brief endorsing the principle of proportional representation based on population. Betty Hung, Los Angeles policy director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, stressed the importance of his motion.

“The Voting Rights Act passed because of blood, sweat and tears, but voting rights are under attack again today,” she told the board. “We urge you all to stand up for the promise of America and to realize the promise of democracy.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ second motion directed the county’s lobbyists in Sacramento to support pending state legislation that would decrease administrative voters to voting; modernize voting systems; and increase voter turnout.

The Voting Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965 in the presence of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., banned discriminatory voting policies at all levels of government. However, modern-day attempts are underway to erect new barriers to voting, such as strict identification requirements, cuts to early voting programs, and restrictions on voter registration.

“These efforts are, in fact, meant to suppress voting, especially among voters of color and young voters,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The County needs to be able to advocate in a timely manner on bills that seek to improve both voter turnout and the election processes and procedures.”