Public Forum with John Lewis: Do We Need an Omnibus Voting Reform Bill?

Published on 18 October 2010 by in America in the King Years, General

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On September 28, the American Constitution Society in Washington presented a dialogue about voting rights between me and my old hometown friend, Rep. John Lewis (D. Ga.).  We reminisced about private moments from his famous march across Selma’s Pettus Bridge and its historic consequences in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Lawyers from the audience asked sharp questions about present-day threats to overturn sections of that landmark law.

The second half of our program took a surprising turn.  John Lewis and I discussed whether modern celebrants of the Voting Rights Act have become too defensive.   Are we focused dangerously on the past, without a forward vision?  Ten years after a Constitutional crisis in the election of 2000, we still have a hodge-podge system of paper ballots, registration barriers, and partisan election-day officials.  Also, we still have an outdated Electoral College, incumbent-driven scrimmages for re-apportionment in most states, and a national capital without voting representation in Congress.

Should we be looking ahead toward a refined election process that counts every vote fairly and equally?

If so, John and I agreed that the problems are very complex.  Ideal solutions are by no means obvious.  Election reform, like all significant changes, faces a variety of political and Constitutional hurdles.   It might take years just to design the best approach to each of the problems.  To start somewhere, we toyed with the idea of a “We the People” task force to work on the many components of an omnibus reform package.

Some specialists among the ACS lawyers responded positively, but no organization has stepped forward as a catalyst.  What do you think?  Is this a worthy task?  Who should lead?  Would it unwisely divert effort from defending the VRA of 1965?

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