Voter rights take center stage at MLK50 symposium

Updated: Apr. 2, 2018 at 6:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Fair and equal voting rights is one of the many issues Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for during his lifetime, but 50 years after his death, the topic remains contentious.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination in voting. In general, it outlawed literacy tests and other similar requirements that disproportionately disenfranchised racial minorities.

Despite that law going into effect more than half a century ago, many people say racial discrimination at the voting booth continues to this day.

A panel at Monday's MLK50 symposium focused specifically on barriers to voter participation.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who marched with King in the 1960s, said minorities still struggle to gain equal access to the polls.

"Four million blacks in the South are not registered; 29 million are registered but did not vote--all high school seniors; 18 million of them can vote this year," Jackson said.

According to the Shelby County Voter Registration Office, as of March 1, 2018, more than 160,000 African Americans are registered to vote in Shelby County. But that is just one out of every three African Americans in the county, a percentage that panelists at Monday's MLK50 symposium said is simply too low.

"We're not close to being there yet," University of California Irvine School of Law professor Richard Hasen said. "We should set a marker out where voting should be as easy as an app on your smartphone."

Different ideas and suggestions were thrown around as to how best to move forward. All panelists agree it won't be easy, but it's necessary to create change.

National Civil Rights Museum hopes this week's MLK50 events will help improve political participation among African Americans in Shelby County. That's why NCRM has voter registration booths set up at every single MLK50 event.

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