Martin Luther King, Jr.

March Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965 

Martin Luther King Day always comes on the third Monday in January, a day to honor and remember Dr. King for his leadership in commanding the attention of the nation to address civil rights. On March 25, 1965, Dr. King, and many others white and black, completed their march from Selma to Montgomery to demand an end to voting rights discrimination. The national Voting Rights Act was passed later that year, establishing authority for the Justice Department to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and stop racial discrimination in voting practices at the state and local level. 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 required the US Justice Department to review and approve new voting laws in state and local elections offices with a history of racial discrimination. In 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that review requirement was out-of-date, and therefore unconstitutional. Many States have passed discriminatory voting laws since this ruling. Voters who have been denied the right to vote because of these laws must file costly and time-consuming lawsuits to prove they faced racial discrimination when they tried to vote. 

Montana passed such a law in 2018; it limited who could return absentee ballots on behalf of another person. This law disproportionately affected Native American voters on reservations who relied on others to deliver their ballots. A suit was brought against this law, and it was declared unconstitutional in 2020. Nevertheless, the Montana Legislature passed a similar bill in 2021 that prohibits paid employees from collecting and returning ballots. A coalition of Native American groups are challenging this law in the courts. While voters wait for the courts to rule, they face this challenge to voting.

The federal government has the authority to protect voting rights and overrule egregious state-level voter discrimination. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act addresses the US Supreme Court ruling from 2013 and restores the powers of the Justice Department to review and approve voting laws before they are implemented. In addition, the Freedom to Vote Act would establish baseline standards for free and fair elections, prohibit creating representative districts that unfairly favor one political party, and call for more transparency in campaign finance. 

Dr. King and the voting rights activists of the 1960s put their bodies on the line in non-violent demonstrations to draw national attention to the moral importance of the right to vote. Today, we are also called upon to stand up for the moral right of all citizens to exercise their right to participate in free and fair elections. 

The Senate and the President need to hear from each and every one of us who support democracy as the cornerstone of our representative republic right now to change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation. By showing an overwhelming level of support from constituents for changing the filibuster to pass these bills, we can bend the arc of history, preserve our democracy, and protect the right vote for all American citizens. 

Now is the time to contact President Biden urging him to do what it takes to pass voting legislation. Even though you may have already done so, contact Montana’s Senators again and tell them that you want your voting rights, elections and our democracy protected and urge them to change the filibuster and get voting rights legislation passed. 

President Biden: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Senator Tester: call Missoula office: 406) 728-3003

Or email: https://www.tester.senate.gov/contact/

Senator Daines: call Missoula office: 406) 549-8198

Or email: https://www.daines.senate.gov/connect/email-steve

The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org 

Spotlight on Citizenship

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