Looking back: Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services celebrates the Voting Rights Act on National Voter Registration Day

This year marked a momentous anniversary for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which celebrated its 50th birthday on Aug. 6. In honor of this occasion, Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services participated with other community partners in Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon’s Council to Celebrate the Voting Rights Act to plan and engage in a series of events throughout the year. These activities culminated in a special event at Minneapolis City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 22, a date also notable for being National Voter Registration Day.

Council Member Jacob Frey, Third Ward representative and chair of the Elections & Rules Committee, emceed the event and captured its essence in his opening remarks, saying: “We’re a little more than a year out from the 2016 Presidential election, and while the campaign season gears up across the country, the City has already been planning to ensure every voter who chooses to participate is ready and able to do so. Being election-ready starts with being registered to vote—one of the reasons we’re gathered today. This event not only recognizes our shared victories to expand the franchise, but also reminds us we are called on to continue that important work in the face of increasing pressure to restrict, cut back, and in some cases outright deny the fundamental right of citizenship.”

Secretary Simon also spoke to those gathered about the essential role of voter registration, noting: “We have 800,000 people in Minnesota who are eligible to vote, but who are not registered ... We really have to stay restless as Minnesotans to make sure that we don’t let those folks fall through the cracks and to make sure that they have the opportunity to exercise their voice and their vote. Job number one of Secretary of State is to protect and defend and always strengthen the right to vote … that’s my passion. It’s about access, and voting and participation and that’s important.”

Former Minneapolis Mayor and U.S. Representative Don Fraser was a member of congress at the time of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and offered remarks focused on the importance of taking advantage of the right to vote. He noted several striking figures, including the fact that fully 40% of unmarried women in the U.S. today are not registered to vote, and the abysmal turnout in many elections, particularly at the local level. He urged listeners to participate in the electoral process, saying, “Democracy is complex. If you don’t vote, you let others make decisions for you … If you do that, you don’t have much right to complain about government.”

Also participating in the event was national elections expert Tammy Patrick, who served on the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA). The PCEA issued a report in 2014 encapsulating multiple recommendations to improve the experiences of voters. Ms. Patrick discussed some of the Commission’s recommendations, including providing more information for voters and expanding opportunities to cast a ballot outside of Election Day Tuesday, and noted, “The Voting Rights Act was not a partisan issue when it was passed in many places, nor should it be now. In the same way, the ability to register unimpeded is not a partisan issue. The ability to cast a ballot in a timely manner should not be a partisan issue either.”

All in attendance that afternoon would agree the special musical performances by Robert Robinson and a joint gospel choir from First Covenant Church in downtown Minneapolis and Community Covenant Church in North Minneapolis were a truly amazing highlight as well. The joint choir opened the afternoon, and then concluded the formal program by following the speakers with a moving performance of the Oscar-award winning song, "Glory" from the movie Selma. Video of that performance is worth rewatching at least a few times.

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