The Alaska Federation of Natives commends U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski for signing on as co-sponsor to the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (VRAA). The legislation, originally introduced this past June by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now bi-partisan, an absolutely essential step if the bill is to move forward in Congress. Senator Murkowski is the first Republican on the U.S. Senate side to do so.
“The momentum for voting rights reform is growing – and we are proud that our senior senator is leading the way in Congress,” said Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
The legislation proposes to restore the federal elections oversight the Supreme Court narrowly ruled unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder, on grounds that the coverage formula for determining which states and counties required federal preclearance before changing their voting practices and procedures under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was outdated. The VRAA modernizes this formula. Moreover, the bill – which now has an increased chance of moving through Congress thanks to Senator Murkowski re-christening it bipartisan – includes other key provisions for communities with demonstrated histories of voter discrimination and suppression, such as the Alaska Native community.
The progress of the bill is good news for all Alaskans because the VRAA will help ensure fair and equitable elections within our state. With the protections provided by this bill, should it become law, disenfranchised peoples across America – including Alaska Natives and rural Alaska voters – will enjoy the basic rights enjoyed by their fellow Americans.
AFN continues to support the introduction of the legislative language proposed by the U.S. Justice Department this past May, the Tribal Equity Access to Voting Act, requiring tribally designated polling locations on Indian lands, equitable polling locations, hours, and pay, in addition to other special protections, and hopes the issues outlined in the bill will garner strong support as a possible second bill.
It is especially fitting that this milestone comes in 2015, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the national Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil rights law that gave meaning to the promise of equal access to the ballot. This law worked remarkably well for nearly 48 years until, in 2013, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision, in Shelby County v. Holder, gutting Section 5, the preclearance regime that had been the Act’s crown jewel, protecting minority voters in every state including Alaska.