Sen. Laphonza Butler of California calls for increased voter protections

Days before the anniversary of Blood Sunday, Butler holds “Modern-Day Voting Discrimination in Alabama" event in Montgomery

U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler on Friday said that democracy is at risk, urging for voting protections to be enforced ahead of the presidential election in November.

The California Democrat made the call in Montgomery, Alabama, at a hearing about protecting voting rights for Americans, particularly those in marginalized communities.

“The very sense of our democracy is at stake” if protections are not honored, Butler told theGrio.

“We must continue to do everything that we can to strengthen the franchise for voters and voters of color all across the country.”

Sen. Laphonza Butler,
Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., is seen during a re-enactment of her swearing-in ceremony to the Senate to succeed the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough, File)

Butler hosted the hearing, “Modern-Day Voting Discrimination in Alabama,” with LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter; Major Shalela Dowdy, founding president of “Stand up Mobile,” a nonprofit organization that focuses on voter engagement; and Laurel Hattix, staff attorney at the ACLU of Alabama.

The discussion sought to combat the latest incidents of voter discrimination in the southern state and efforts to restore federal protections for voters of color across the nation.

People are still restricting the right to vote for Black and brown people. This is not something of the past and this hearing proved that,” Molly McGrath, senior advisor on democracy at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told theGrio.

Kareem Crayton, senior director of voting rights and representation with the Brennan Center for Justice, told theGrio that it is important that the senator is having hearings “in the places where it will have the greatest impact.”

It’s also important that we hear from the people who live in these jurisdictions who can talk about the effects of not having voting rights protections,” he added. “It’s important that their voices be heard.”

(Credit: Getty Images)

Alabama has a fraught history of discriminatory voting practices.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Alabama’s congressional redistricting maps discriminated against Black constituents. The Court ordered that a new map be drawn to include two districts where Black voters can elect a candidate of their choice.

Crayton said it is imperative that “people of color have their voices included in the election system” and have “the opportunity to elect people of color” who can represent them and help curtail issues that disproportionately impact minority communities.

Butler’s hearing comes a day after Senate Democrats reintroduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore voter protections under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But gaining support from Republicans to pass the bill in a divided and historically unproductive Congress will be a tall task.

McGrath said the act would “both strengthen and restore key portions of the Voting Rights Act … that was gutted by the Supreme Court in the Shelby decision.”

U.S. Supreme Court,
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. is seen in June when, in a groundbreaking decision, the court overturned the use of affirmative action in the college admissions process. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a verdict in Shelby v. Holder which restricted the federal government from requiring that certain states seek preclearance to change their voting policies.

The ruling “opened the floodgates for more laws to be passed that target and impact Black and brown voters,” McGrath said.

Black man voting,
A millennial black man voting at a voting booth in an election.

“Now more than ever we need to restore the protection of the Voting Rights Act,” she added.

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