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Opinion: Take action now on voting rights

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Despite long lines, Missoula County voters cast their ballots in person at the Elections Center in Missoula on Nov. 4, 2020

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King Jr. Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965.

Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January, a day to honor and remember Dr. King for his leadership in commanding the attention of the nation to address civil rights. On March 25, 1965, Dr. King and many others, white and black, completed their march from Selma to Montgomery to demand an end to voting rights discrimination. The national Voting Rights Act was passed later that year with overwhelming support from both parties.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 required the U.S. Justice Department to review and approve new voting laws in state and local election offices with a history of racial discrimination. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that review requirement was out-of-date and therefore unconstitutional. Many states including Montana have passed discriminatory voting laws since this ruling. Voters denied the right to vote because of these laws must file costly and time-consuming lawsuits to prove they faced racial discrimination when they tried to vote.

Two bills now in the U.S. Senate would protect voting rights and overrule state-level discriminatory voting laws. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act addresses the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and restores the powers of the Justice Department to review and approve voting laws before they are implemented. The Freedom to Vote Act is a transformative voting rights bill that will protect and expand the right to vote, decrease the influence of money in politics and curb partisan gerrymandering. This legislation will put power back into the hands of American voters by prioritizing voting access and participation, while also modernizing future elections to ensure a system that everyone can trust.

The historic 2020 election, deemed the most secure in modern history by election officials of both parties, achieved record-shattering voter participation and necessary expansions to voter access during a deadly pandemic. Now is not the time to back down, but to surge forward. Federal voting rights protections cannot wait and are vital to saving the soul of our democracy.

The fight for voting rights has been a long and enduring battle. Dr. King and the voting rights activists of the 1960s put their bodies on the line in non-violent demonstrations to draw national attention to the moral importance of the right to vote. Today, we are called upon to stand up for the moral right of all citizens to exercise their right to participate in free and fair elections.

Your voice is powerful. Now it’s time to raise it up to the Oval Office. Call on the Biden-Harris White House to lead this fight to protect the freedom to vote. Montana’s senators also need to hear from each and every one of us who support democracy as the cornerstone of our representative republic to change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation.

President Biden: whitehouse.gov/contact/

Sen. Jon Tester: Missoula office 406-728-3003 or tester.senate.gov/contact/

Sen. Steve Daines: call Missoula office: 406-549-8198 or email daines.senate.gov/connect/email-steve

Contact the president and your senators today and tell them to do whatever it takes to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Return control of our government back where it belongs — into the hands of the people.

By showing an overwhelming level of support from constituents for changing the filibuster to pass these bills, we can alter the arc of history, preserve our democracy, and protect the right to vote for all American citizens.

Nancy Leifer, president, League of Women Voters of Montana and Nancy Maxson, past president, League of Women Voters of Missoula.

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The permanent solution to the “gridlock” is for the Senate to simply follow the Constitution. All matters, unless specified by the Constitution, should simply be decided by a majority vote.

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