Voting rights advocates reflect on MLK's unfinished work

Sean Coffey Image
Monday, January 15, 2024
Advocates reflect on voting rights on MLK Day
This year's MLK Jr. Day comes amid ongoing voter litigation in North Carolina in response to the state's recently redrawn congressional maps.

NORTH CAROLINA (WTVD) -- Voting rights advocates reflected on the legacy that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr left behind when it comes to voting.

MLK Jr. Day 2024 celebrations are happening amid ongoing voter litigation in North Carolina in response to the state's recently redrawn congressional maps.

The plaintiffs in those federal lawsuits -- which are still making their way through the courts -- contend that North Carolina's new maps are an example of the modern methods utilized to suppress voters. The maps' backers say redistricting on partisan lines is legal and no racial data was used in the new maps.

The outcome of those suits notwithstanding -- voting rights advocates used the Monday holiday as an opportunity to promote what they called Martin Luther King's unfinished work.

"It's the same problem, and we need to eradicate it," said Deborah Maxwell, president of the North Carolina NAACP, one of the plaintiffs in a federal voting lawsuit.

Maxwell spent part of MLK Jr. Day addressing community members and advocates in Chapel Hill, 30 days before early voting begins for North Carolina's March primaries.

"We need stronger protections within North Carolina immediately," Maxwell said. "We're not going to get that. But that is why we've filed suit through Southern Coalition for Social Justice."

In Durham, Law professor Irving Joyner says the fight for voting rights that continues today echoes MLK's efforts on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"Back in the 60's, the focus was on being to vote, period," Joyner said. "Today, there is a recognition of the right to vote but there is a strong effort to curtail the impact and importance of that exercise amongst African Americans."

Joyner says nationwide -- that manifests itself today through restrictive voter requirements and gerrymandered maps, and that pushing back against those measures proves Dr. King's message.

"As we move to confront the efforts to minimize the vote, the relevance becomes apparent," Joyner said.

A movement advocates say is not only still relevant -- but still being fought for, nearly 60 years after MLK's death.

"He would've been 95 today. He would've been sad to see some of the things that have occurred not only in this state but around the country. But we will continue to pursue his dream," said Maxwell.

WATCH | Video from 1966 found of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at NC State

A 19-second clip of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech inside Reynolds Coliseum in 1966 was recently found in a Raleigh homeowner's basement.

Voter Suppression

Britannica defines voter suppression as a legal or extralegal measure or strategy whose purpose or practical effect is to reduce voting, or registering to vote, by members of a targeted racial group, political party, or religious community.

What is Gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is defined as a process where the boundaries of legislative districts are redrawn to favor the political interests of one party. Boundaries are redrawn to include as many of one party's voters as possible, and to help that party have the best chance possible to win as many seats of power.

What are the election laws in my state?

Federal laws for states are all the same, especially. However, individual states may have different laws.

Here's a link to election laws in all 50 states

What is Voter Intimidation?

According to the ACLU, Voter intimidation is attempting to interfere with your or anyone's right to vote, it may be voter intimidation and a violation of federal law. Examples of intimidation may include: aggressively questioning voters about their citizenship, criminal record, or other qualifications to vote, in a manner intended to interfere with the voters' rights falsely presenting oneself as an election official spreading false information about voter requirements, such as an ability to speak English, or the need to present certain types of photo identification (in states with no such requirement) displaying false or misleading signs about voter fraud and the related criminal pen.

Here's how to report voter intimidation: Call the Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-687-8683 or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español)