As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth today, we pay tribute to his legacy of fighting for equal rights. In this election season, it's especially important to commemorate King's work to pass the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibited discriminatory practices such as literacy tests to prevent citizens from voting.
Nearly 43 years after the passage of the VRA, state and local government are still trying to prohibit eligible voters from casting a ballot. Earlier this month, the ACLU was before the Supreme Court to challenge Indiana's voter ID law. Today, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution published an op-ed written by Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, about how laws such as Indiana's are an affront to democracy and King's legacy. Laughlin writes:
Approximately 25 percent of African-American citizens of voting age (5.5 million people) have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens. The effect of photo ID laws in suppressing black - and thus.likely Democratic - political participation is apparent. Last year legislators in 27 states proposed laws seeking to increase ID requirements for registration or voting.
...As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day 2008, we should recall his crusade for citizenship and equal political participation. Unfortunately, the proponents of modern "ballot security" laws have chosen to ignore King's legacy and in doing so have betrayed American democracy. The fight continues to protect the right to vote and make the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream a reality.
In addition to the challenge to Indiana's voter ID law, last week the Voting Rights Project brought a lawsuit in Ohio that challenges the state's use of a particular voting system in Cuyahoga County. This system could potentially invalidate thousands of legitimate votes by not allowing voters to correct mistakes on their ballot.
The ACLU will continue to fight King's fight until his dream of an equal vote for all is realized.