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Voting Rights Advocates March In West Palm Beach, Call For Expanded Access To The Ballot Box

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Wilkine Brutus
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Voting rights advocates gathered at Gaines Park in West Palm Beach to express their support for expanding access to the ballot.

Just over 100 voting rights advocates gathered at Gaines Park in West Palm Beach Saturday to express their support for expanding access to the ballot. Business leaders, elected officials and activists used the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to demand better voting rights protections across the country.

Participants, who spoke, cheered and marched under the scorching Florida sun, say the latest Supreme Court rulings in the recent decade have weakened the landmark Voting Rights Act Of 1965, giving many Republican-led states more leeway to suppress voter rights.

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Attorney Richard Ryles, president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Palm Beach County, said voters of all ages and backgrounds are sending a message to Congress.

“Rallies like this allow young people to see and to hear and to learn and become part of the process,” said Ryles. “And it also motivates us to do the things necessary to motivate Congress to do what it needs to do in order to protect the rights of all citizens.”

The Voting Rights Act Of 1965 was signed into law two years after the original March On Washington. Last week, the U.S. House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill would restore a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (Section 5) that require states with a history of voting discrimination to get “preclearance” or "preapproval" from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing their voting laws.

Republicans argue it gives the federal government too much oversight and now it faces strong GOP opposition in the U.S. Senate.

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Wilkine Brutus
Undergrad students from Florida Atlantic University attended the voting rights rally in honor of the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Each student told WLRN they were civic-minded, especially on campus.

Voting rights advocates say the Senate Republican filibuster is holding back the John Lewis bill and the For the People Act, two pieces of voting rights legislation often mentioned in tandem.

Ryles says he’s tired of what he sees as a long-lasting effort to disenfranchise voters.

“There have been attacks against the marginalized and disenfranchised communities in this country almost since the outset,” said Ryles. “And hopefully we can get legislation passed to prevent further attacks on the right to vote.”

Charles Harris, 70, is a retired electrician and a Union Civil War re-enactor from New Jersey. Harris said he never imagined, in 2021, that he’d be at a park marching to protect the right to vote.

“The laws that have recently been passed by states like Florida, Texas, Georgia, are nothing but a throwback to the 1950s and '60s 'Jim Crow' laws," Harris said.

Charles Harris.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Charles Harris, 70, is a retired electrician and a Union Civil War reenactor. He joined the voting rights rally in West Palm Beach to make a statement about the 15th amendment.

The Boca Raton resident joined the voting rights rally to make a statement about the importance of the 15th Amendment’s 1870 ratification when juxtaposed with the modern-day voting rights battle. The portion he quoted read: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Advocates say both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For The People Act are required to fully protect voting rights across the country.

Harris said Black Americans have died for the right to vote.

“We have to take a stand because the right to vote is sacred. It is a constitutional right fought with blood," Harris said.