Lorraine Miller (standing), interim president and CEO of the NAACP, speaks at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights meeting, called “Moving Voting Rights Forward: A Conference on Strategy for 2014 and Beyond,” held last month in Washington, D.C. Seated from left are, Sophia Zaman, president of the United States Student Association; Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Ellen Buchman, vice president of Field Operations for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
NASW is continuing the fight to support voter rights as a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Staff from NASW attended the organization’s “Moving Voting Rights Forward: A Conference on Strategy for 2014 and Beyond,” hosted in Washington, D.C., last month.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 3899; S. 1945), which was introduced in Congress in January, was a focal point of the event. The bipartisan bill seeks to address challenges facing voters after the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling in 2013 for the case Holder v. Shelby County.
The high court struck down the coverage formula, also known as Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act of 1965, which required certain areas of the country with a history of voter discrimination to seek federal approval before altering their voting laws.
Melvin Wilson, manager of the NASW Department of Social Justice and Human Rights, said the social justice community and NASW strongly disagree with the court ruling.
The February conference offered supporters of voting rights across the country an opportunity to network, discuss mutual challenges and develop strategies for success in making sure voters are treated fairly.
Wilson said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., gave an inspiring speech at a reception in the Library of Congress the night before the conference.
“He reminded the audience of what he and other civil rights proponents went through to obtain voter rights,” Wilson said.
The conference offered new insight into the pros and cons of the Voter Rights Amendment Act as well as an opportunity to examine polling data on voter rights issues, Wilson said.
Dina Kastner, senior field organizer at NASW, also attended the conference. She said she was most impressed that the Voter Rights Amendment bill has bipartisan support, and she enjoyed hearing from Bart Forsyth, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who co-sponsored the introduction of the bill along with Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.“One of the breakout sessions I attended focused on state outreach efforts and we got to hear from everyone in the room,” Kastner said. “Different people represented organizations from across the country.”
She said an NASW advocacy alert, which will encourage NASW members to contact their congressional representatives to support the Voter Rights Amendment Act, is expected soon.
Wilson said it is especially imperative that Republican representatives in Congress are encouraged to support the bill to ensure its bipartisan success.
Lawmakers have indicated that they expect to take action on the proposal by the end of July, he said.
Lorraine Miller, interim president and CEO of the NAACP, told conference attendees that they need to stand together if they want the Voter Rights Amendment Act passed into law.
“We can do this together,” she said in her closing remarks. “Let’s do this and get this work done.”
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the conference accomplished its goal of identifying “where we are today and the challenges we face and where do we go from here.”
He said progress is not inevitable, however.
“You have to make them happen,” he told attendees. “The challenge we face is a great one.”