As we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., today is good time to remember that Congress has failed to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court found section 4 of the act to be out of date in 2013 and left it up to Congress to amend the act to bring in into compliance. Instead, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to act on it, opening the door for states to enact voter restrictions instead. 

The Voting Rights Act followed the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964, recognizing barriers to registering and voting like literacy tests. The act has been repeatedly reauthorized, the last time in 2006 for 25 years. Reauthorization bills usually garnered broad, bipartisan support. 

Shortly after the courts struck down section 4, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress introduced legislation that would fix the law. However, the GOP controlled House blocked the measure. Since then, the Republican Party has become increasingly hostile to voting bills and no fix is in sight.

Despite the obvious evidence to the contrary, a narrative has emerged in conservative circles that discrimination and racism are largely gone. Conservative writer Jeff Jacoby recently wrote, “[Racism] is only minor problem now, one that has grown steadily less toxic and less entrenched.” I recently heard another conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg say that he believes we need to make voting harder, not easier. 

My best explanation for their views is that they live in convenient bubbles with little understanding of our diverse country. My worst explanation is that they’re lying to themselves to justify supporting discriminatory practices like voter suppression programs and opposing fixes to the Voting Rights Act. 

We can best honor the legacy of Martin Luther King by working to defeat those misconceptions through education programs and at the ballot box. In Congress, they can recognize his life’s work by passing a bill to fix the voting rights act today. It’s the very least they could do.  

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