Ensuring that every voice, and vote, counts

The following is adapted from an Aug. 17 speech commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

By Rep. Luis Moscoso

Fifty years ago, I was in 8th grade watching these historic events as they unfolded on TV. And I was paying attention because my parents were concerned about the civil rights movement and what was happening in this country.

My father, a Peruvian immigrant who came to the U.S. to attend college in the late 1940s, married my mother, a fourth- generation Hawkeye, whose mostly German ancestors had settled in Iowa before the Civil War. My parents worked hard to realize their American Dream and instilled in me the belief that everyone — regardless of heritage — should enjoy the same opportunities our democracy promises but are as yet not fully realized for all.

One consequence of that first March on Washington was the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, an historic and transformational law. Today, as we reflect on our nation’s struggle to eradicate the obstructions to minority voting rights that endured for a century after the end of the Civil War, we recognize that we’ve come a long way. There’s no denying that the Voting Rights Act has been successful in expanding minority participation, but can we assure that it has done enough?

Just recently, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Up until last June, this preclearance rule determined which states needed federal approval before changing any voting laws. It was a key piece of the federal law specifically included to protect and uphold the voting rights of all people regardless of race and ethnicity.

Only one week later, North Carolina Republicans proposed a number of changes to their voting laws that one week earlier would have required approval from the federal government. The aim was to suppress minority voting. And, sure enough, those measures were passed and enacted in that state.

Earlier this month, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that if the Voting Rights Act is not fixed, “citizens will be disenfranchised, victimized by the law instead of served by it.”

She’s absolutely right, and the problem is not limited to North Carolina. In fact, more than 80 bills restricting voting rights have been introduced in 31 states so far this year.

More than 80 bills is nothing short of appalling.

Fortunately, here in Washington, we are steering toward the opposite direction because we believe every vote should count and our government must be accountable to every citizen. Here in Washington, we believe everyone should have a voice.

After the Supreme Court ruling and North Carolina’s new voting laws, now more than ever it is up to the states to take the necessary steps to ensure the voices of every ethnic minority are heard in every election.

And that’s why I and some of my colleagues in the Legislature will continue fighting to get HB1413, the Washington State Voting Rights Act, a bill I am prime sponsor of, passed.

The purpose of my legislation is really very simple, all we want is to make sure that:

•All voices are heard in local elections.

Everyone has a fair chance to be represented.

Everyone has a fair chance to elect candidates of their choice.

Specifically, this bill would provide a solution where broken elections systems exclude communities from a fair chance at representation.

Make no mistake: the Washington Voting Rights Act does not mandate any particular voting system. It merely allows the problem of voter exclusion to be solved in ways to give every individual an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

Let’s work together to lift every voice and make every vote count.

We march together to make our own history here. To protect our Voting Rights that empowers us to represent ourselves in a democratic process. Living and working freely in a society that prizes human dignity along with human rights.

Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-Mountlake Terrace) represents the first legislative district and serves as vice chair of the House Transportation Committee.

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