In Olympia, Senate Republicans again shamelessly blocked the Washington Voting Rights Act from becoming law.
House Bill 1745, approved by the House despite unanimous Republican opposition, would provide for communities to make changes in situations where at-large elections limit chances for minority and low-income communities to be represented in government. As an example of the problem, in ten Washington counties where Latinos represent 33 percent of the population, only 4 percent of elected officials are Latino.
In Yakima, where Latinos represent 40 percent of the population, until the ACLU won a law suit in 2014, no Latino had ever been elected to its City Council. Now three Latina women are members of the council. The Washington Voting Rights Act was carefully crafted to help local communities make needed reforms and avoid costly litigation. The Yakima court case cost local tax payers more than $1 million.
Republican legislators blocking equal voting rights in Washington state has a parallel on the national level in Congress where, despite House Majority Leader Paul Ryan saying he supports it, sadly, Republicans have blocked the Voting Rights Amendment Act from coming to a vote. In states across the country Republicans have enacted scores of new restrictions that would reduce voting by minorities, low income groups and youth. To a very large extent, these new challenges to equal voting rights were made possible by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in 2013 striking down the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Court made this decision despite the Senate having voted 98-0 in 2006 to renew the act, as is, for 25 more years
The irony of Republicans advocating for restrictions on equal voting rights is even more troubling when we remember that in 1965, reflecting the party’s Lincoln legacy, a significantly higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted to support the Selma-inspired Voting Rights Act. (In the Senate, 94 percent of Republicans vs. 73 percent of Democrats supported the Voting Rights Act.) Republicans’ current strategies may be politically expedient for now but, given shifting demographics, the party is likely to pay a heavy political price in the coming years.
John Avlon, former speech writer for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has warned that given America’s diversity, “To win in the 21st century, the party of Lincoln needs to start looking like the party of Lincoln again.” The amount of bigotry and fear mongering by several candidates in this year’s contest to choose the Republican nominee for president is a sad and dangerous reflection of how far the party has fallen from being the party of Lincoln.
Ron Young marched for equal voting rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma in 1965. He lives in Everett. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org