Our Voice is Our Vote
U.S. Representative Terri Sewell
April 24, 2020
This reflection is part of our 2020 Lent Guide: Becoming Spirit-Filled Voters.
As a proud daughter of Selma, Alabama, growing up I was surrounded by the heroes and sheroes of the civil and voting rights movements. I was reminded every day of the powerful change that ordinary Americans can achieve.
My home church, Brown Chapel A.M.E., is where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. planned the Selma-to-Montgomery marches and where protesters sheltered on Bloody Sunday; on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which looms large over downtown Selma, my colleague and mentor, Congressman John Lewis, was beaten bloody by billy clubs.
There was rarely a family gathering or church function that didn’t include proud participants of the movement, their stories told and retold as a reminder to us all of what ordinary Americans are capable.
The history of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District sets it apart, as one of our country’s most potent testaments to the triumph of human courage; the power of grassroots, community organizing; and the resilience of our democracy.
I would not walk the halls of Congress today if it were not for the foot soldiers of the civil and voting rights movements, who marched, bled and died for the right to vote.
Sadly, old battles have become new again. Modern-day barriers to the ballot box – strict voter ID, polling location closures, and voter roll purges – have prevented too many Americans from making their voices heard.
Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 and halted federal preclearance, elections have taken place under laws that were later found in court to be intentionally discriminatory. In states across the country and, particularly, in many previously-covered under the preclearance requirements of the VRA, new state laws and voting procedures have diluted the voting rights of certain vulnerable communities – the elderly, disabled, minority groups and younger voters.
In the 2018 midterm elections, the Republican candidate for governor in Georgia used his powers as Secretary of State to put 53,000 voter registrations on hold, nearly 70% of which belonged to Black voters. In North Carolina, the state legislature closed 20% of early voting locations in 2018. In New Hampshire, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, students faced higher hurdles to cast their ballots.
And this year, on Super Tuesday, a Houston resident waited seven hours to cast his ballot. No one should have to wait hours in line to exercise their constitutional right to vote!
In 2012, before the Shelby decision, Texas had one polling place for every 4,000 residents. By 2018, that figure had dropped to one polling place per 7,700 residents. It’s no mistake those closures disproportionately took place in growing African American and Latino neighborhoods.
Since the Shelby decision, changes to state voting laws are leaving the voices of millions of citizens behind. The road to justice is long and winding, but no citizen deserves to be left in the rearview mirror.
We must double down on our commitment to the voting rights movement and elect candidates who are committed to restoring the protections of the Voting Rights Act and expanding voter access across the country.
The foot soldiers of the civil rights movement reminded us that every one of us can change the course of history. Our vote is our voice. We must use it this November!
Terri Sewell is a Member of the United States House of Representatives 116th Congress. She represents Alabama’s 7th District, which includes Selma, Alabama, the birthplace of the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights.