By Gabriel Arteaga, National Manager, The Democracy Commitment (TDC)

New America hosted a discussion recently on the Voting Rights Act called, The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. The discussion was led by Mark Schmitt, director of political reform at New America. He was joined by journalist and author, Ari BermaVRAn and Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

This past August, marked the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), however there have been recent attempts nationally to restrict access to the voting booth, by restrictive voting ID laws and limited voting hours. In his book titled, Give Us the Ballot: provides a historical context to the VRA, argues that while the VRA was a cornerstone of the Civil Rights movement and it provided the right to vote for millions of Americans, he believes battles are still being waged over race, representation, and political power even to this day.

Nicole Austin-Hillery from the Brennon Center for Justice certainly added to this discussion and offered her belief that the history of this country is about expanding our rights, not suppressing it or making it harder for citizens to be a part our democratic system. She believes in the framework of our county and that regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is of the utmost importance for all of us to focus on voting rights, because it will ensure the growth and vibrancy of our democracy. She offered a solution to some of the issues surrounding voter suppression, by working to modernize voter registration. The Brennon Center has a report that outlines the case for modernizing voter registration, which can be found here.

While at times the discussion seemed a bit daunting, both speakers reminded us that this work requires a lot of effort, but are confident that one day we will achieve a free and equal democratic process.

If you would like your students to hear from these two great thought leaders on voting and civil rights, you may watch the full discussion on the New America website here.