Civil rights-conscious leaders warned the public about barriers to voting at a forum in Boyds Monday.
Forum moderator U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Dist. 6) of Potomac led a panel discussion at the historically black Boyds School about a potential change to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Montgomery County Council President Craig L. Rice, University of Baltimore Professor Gilda Daniels, NAACP Montgomery County Branch President Anita Powell and Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Yvette Lewis formed the rest of the panel.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 proposes changes to the post-civil rights movement law. The amendment’s provisions include a requirement that voters be informed of pending changes to the voting process and allow federal observers to monitor elections to protect Americans who speak limited English.
The original Voting Rights Act is “arguably one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in this country,” Delaney said. But the federal government is not paying much attention to potentially unfair voting procedures at the state level, he said. The amendment may change that if members of Congress can come together on the issue.
Several of the forum’s speakers said the repression of black voters through taxes and tests in the 1960s bears resemblance to the barriers, both real and perceived, that many potential voters face now.
“We have a new voter tax,” Lewis said. “It’s called voter ID, it’s called moving your district.”
The barriers they discussed also include long lines at the polls, transportation to a polling location, language fluency and education about candidates’ platforms and issues that may affect them.
“When you remove these barriers...you can have participation from all parts of society,” Daniels said.
Rice said there are changes that can be made at the local level that may help educate voters and convince them to vote.
“We shouldn’t have to rely on Congress,” he said. “We have to step up.”
In Montgomery County, voting materials are provided in a number of languages that exceeds the requirement, Daniels said. But in other states, that is not necessarily the case.
Delaney said Montgomery County officials are generally supportive of the changes proposed in the amendment, but local governments should strive to increase voter participation.
Rice agreed. “We’ve got to continue to talk to folks about what is important to them,” he said.
The Boyds School is located on White Ground Road. Built in 1895, the one-room building was a classroom for African-American children in the Boyds area from 1896 to 1936. It is now maintained by the Boyds Historical Society as a community meeting place.