The Voting Rights Act 50 years later and what’s next

Opportunities to educate, motivate, and activate all Minnesotans around issues of voting and democracy

This year marks a momentous anniversary for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As the Act celebrates its 50th birthday on Aug. 6, there is acknowledgement of both its importance in helping assure the right to vote for many Americans and the gaps that remain for some in accessing the right that forms the cornerstone of democracy.

The City of Minneapolis’ Office of City Clerk and its Elections & Voter Services Division have been participating in Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon’s Council to Celebrate the Voting Rights Act. This Council comprised of community partners has worked to plan a pair of special events to help sharpen the focus on both the commemoration of the VRA’s 50th anniversary and the need to remain restless in the pursuit of voting rights for all Americans.

The first official event hosted by the Council occurred on July 30 at the Landmark Center in Saint Paul. Secretary Simon awarded National Association of Secretaries of State Medallions to civil rights pioneer Dr. Josie Johnson and the four living members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation in 1965, Vice President Walter Mondale, Governor Al Quie, Representative and Mayor Don Fraser, and Representative Alec Olson. Minnesota’s 1965 delegation had the distinction of having its entire membership – both Democrats and Republicans – vote in favor of the Voting Rights Act.

The second event planned by the Council will be on Thurs. Aug. 6 at the Harrison Neighborhood community center at 503 Irving Ave N. Dinner will be served beginning at 5:00 p.m., with an evening of storytelling, learning, and performance from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m. kicked off by Congressman Keith Ellison. This event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are requested to get a good count for dinner.

Secretary Simon published a commentary in the Star Tribune in late July explaining both the work of the Council in celebrating the Voting Rights Act, and its focus on ongoing work to strengthen voting rights. He shared a quote from U.S. Rep. John Blatnik, Minnesota’s Eighth District congressional representative in 1965, who stated, “We in Congress are charged with the responsibility of ensuring our citizens the privilege of voting. Please know that I will be restless until this responsibility is fully discharged.”

The Office of City Clerk and its Elections & Voter Services Division shares this commitment to ensuring all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote. As demonstrated by Minnesota’s congressional delegation in 1965, this focus is bipartisan. Secretary Simon calls for addressing current barriers to voting “by getting good habits started early among young voters, by modernizing our election system to provide even more freedom and flexibility for voters, and by opening doors for Minnesotans who are currently shut out of the voting system.” Elections & Voter Services is proud to offer opportunities for youth to get involved in the electoral process even before they are old enough to vote, through educational partnerships and a robust student election judge program. The Division is also focused on ensuring that young people, and all voters, are able to easily register and are prepared to vote. Making the voting process more accessible to residents is also a priority, with efforts underway to ensure convenient and sufficient poll locations and readily available opportunities to cast a ballot before Election Day.

Beginning in September and running through December, the Office of City Clerk will be hosting an exhibit in City Hall featuring artifacts and memorabilia focused on the history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Minnesota and Minneapolis. On National Voter Registration Day, Tues. Sept. 22, there will be an event at City Hall featuring a formal program and direct opportunities for participants to learn more and get involved in supporting voter participation beginning with registration. Attendees will be encouraged to view the VRA exhibit, and can also participate in optional tours of the historic Court House/City Hall building. Voter education programming will be available both to connect with potential voters and to provide exposure for attending partners and organizations working on voter outreach to experience the resources available through the city, including education focused on teaching participants how to correctly mark a ballot and how to cast their ballot using the City’s voting equipment (for an on-site, first-hand demonstration); information on how to register and how to vote by (no excuse) absentee ballot, either in-person or by mail; and tools to engage residents with I WILL VOTE pledge cards to gather contact information that can be used to stay in touch ahead of the 2016 Presidential Election. There will also be information and resources for organizations wishing to conduct their own voter registration drives. More details will be shared on the Elections & Voter Services website as available, as well as through social media channels including Twitter and Facebook.

Elections & Voter Services
City Hall, 350 S. 5th St., Room 201
Minneapolis, MN 55415