Honor Dr. King’s Legacy by Continuing the Voting Rights Fight

1/18/2017, 6 a.m. | Updated on 1/18/2017, 6 a.m.
We are facing a critical time for voting rights in our country. On Monday, I spoke to the Southland Ministerial ...
Cook County Clerk David Orr

Honor Dr. King’s Legacy by Continuing the Voting Rights Fight

We are facing a critical time for voting

rights in our country. On Monday, I spoke to

the Southland Ministerial Health Network

at their Martin Luther King Day Spirit of

Excellence Awards about the need to continue

the fight for voting rights as the best way to

honor Dr. King’s legacy.

Not that long ago in this country, African

Americans who tried to register to vote and those who would help them register, were locked out of clerks’ offices, or worse, intimidated, beaten, even killed— so that they wouldn’t exercise their right to vote. The 1965 Voting Rights Act helped end that violent voter suppression.

As we honor the legacy of Dr. King and those who fought for

the Voting Rights Act by registering to vote and going to the polls, we

must confront the ugly truth that across the country, voting rights are being threatened again.

In 2013 the Supreme Court severely

weakened the Voting Rights Act, giving many

states wide latitude to restrict access to the

polls, which they are doing with enthusiasm.

We have yet to see what further damage

the Supreme Court will do under the next


Despite the current attacks on voting

rights, in Illinois we have has improved access and ease in voting. Our successes would not have been possible without the help of engaged and involved citizens, civic groups and legislators. Eleven

years ago I introduced Early Voting to Illinois, and each election cycle we see significant increases in Cook County residents voting

early. We have also implemented online voter registration,

same-day voter registration and expanded our election

judge program to include high school students.

This year, we

reached a record 3 million registered voters

in Cook County. We have worked diligently to

ensure the lists are cleaner and more accurate.

But there is still work to do, here and


Across the country, we must bring back

crucial parts of the Voting Rights Act and

reverse dangerous decisions on allowing

money to flood our political system. It is

outrageous that the Supreme Court has

said that your influence will, in effect, be

determined by how much money you have.

Here in Illinois, we must pass Automatic

Voter Registration (AVR). AVR will save us

money be streamlining the process of cleaning

the voting rolls and thereby ensuring we have

the cleanest rolls possible.

Government agencies should harness

technology to share information so that

voting rolls are accurate and citizens don’t

need to unnecessarily engage with multiple


A functional democracy requires voting

so the wishes of the electorate are supposed

to guide our public policy. When democracy

is weakened, it leads to what we see today:

public policy that is simply not what people

want. Voters do not want continuing

inequality or justice that is determined

based on your skin color or your wealth.

Dr. King understood this. He understood

the relationship between racism, economic

inequality and the right to vote. Today

our challenge is galvanizing our energy to

continue the fight he gave his life for.

Cook County Clerk David Orr was honored

Monday by the Southland Ministerial Health

Network for his commitment and dedication

to voting rights.