Yesterday marked the 58th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which was passed nearly 100 years after the 15th Amendment established the "right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude." The long overdue VRA established critical safeguards to protect voters of color from racial discrimination and brought an end to Jim Crow’s grip on the fundamental freedom to vote.
It was a watershed victory for the civil rights movement that was won through the struggle and sacrifice of dedicated, fearless people who risked life and liberty to secure the right to vote for Black people and all people of color. It came after years of organizing and peaceful demonstrations that were met with acts of violence and intimidation, including the murders of Freedom Summer workers in Mississippi in 1964 and Bloody Sunday in 1965, where over 600 people marching for the right to vote were brutally beaten by police and civilians in Selma, Alabama.
The act was a beacon of hope for a fair and just society. Considered one of the most effective pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress, it led to increased voter registration, electoral participation, and political representation for people of color; protected against voter suppression; and expanded language access at the polls. However, the fight for voting rights remains far from over. As we honor this milestone, we must also confront the pressing challenges that threaten to erode the progress we've made, particularly here in Texas.
Our state is on the front lines of efforts to dismantle this progress. Since the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision gutted the Voting Rights Act a decade ago, the Brennan Center reports that states previously covered under the VRA, including Texas, have passed restrictive voting laws with "ample evidence that these kinds of laws fall hardest on communities of color." More polling locations have been closed in Texas than in any other state since Shelby.
More recently, the state has targeted Harris County and many of the reforms we’ve enacted to tear down barriers to the ballot box. Two years ago, the state took away drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, advances that ushered in record turnout in Harris County. In this past legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law two bills targeting elections in Harris County. The first measure abolishes the Harris County elections administrator, forcing Harris County to return to a system that began under Jim Crow. The second measure grants the governor-appointed secretary of state the power to essentially take over Harris County elections.
The struggles we face in Texas are not unique; they echo across the nation. The erosion of voting rights is a systematic attack on the rights and freedoms generations have fought to protect. Let us use this occasion to reflect on our shared values, renew our dedication to the cause, and work tirelessly to preserve our democratic process. We must advocate for revitalizing and strengthening the Voting Rights Act to ensure that it serves as an impenetrable shield against any attempts to suppress the will of the people.
The journey toward a more perfect union is a continuous one, and our determination to secure justice for all must never waver.