Over 50 years after passing of Voting Rights Act, local professor says more must be done

Thursday marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, a bill meant to eradicate the legal barriers that prevent African Americans from voting in elections.

It came after months of protests, including “Bloody Sunday,” which left the late congressman John Lewis injured.

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An associate law professor at Duquesne University told Channel 11 there are still credible threats to access voting, particularly for minority voters. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock believes there is still rampant discrimination in voting practices and procedures throughout the nation.

“Honestly it’s exhausting. It’s far too heavy of a burden for all of us to still have to carry,” she said.

Jefferson-Bullock said a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 that removed federal oversight in areas with history of racial discrimination made the Voting Rights Act less effective in those regions.

“Since 2013, any time a jurisdiction wants to pass a voting change -- even one that has a long history of discrimination in voting practices and procedures -- they no longer have to go through that federal clearance, which has rendered the Voting Rights Act much less effective than it was in 1965 and less effective than it was prior to 2013,” said Jefferson-Bullock.

Voter ID laws, reduced polling places and registration purge are some areas of the voting process where Jefferson-Bullock said voter discrimination still exists.

“(Voter ID laws) disproportionately affect minority communities and poor people who often just don’t have the means to go and get the proper ID ... or don’t have access to whoever the governing body is to get those IDs,” she said.

Registering to vote is another issue in some areas.

Jefferson-Bullock said restoring federal oversight in voting practices is one of the many ways to bring about change.

“Any area where there is a concentration of poor people, we need to make sure that everyone in that area has access to a ballot and is aware of where thy can vote and the various options they can use to vote,” she said.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was recently filed and needs to be passed. That would help restore full protections of the original act passed in 1965.