On Its 50th Anniversary, Obama Calls for Voting Rights Act Update

President Barack Obama NAACP

President Barack Obama called for an updated version of the Voting Rights Act Thursday, 50 years after it was first passed, amid what he said is a steady effort to roll back the landmark law.

Obama proclaimed September 22 "Voter Registration Day," acknowledging a three-year-old effort to register voters across the country. The Voting Right Act was signed on August 6, 1965, 

"Citizens: Seize the power that you have. Make this democracy work," Obama said at a newsconference Thursday afternoon. "Heroic things happen when people get involved."

On Thursday, Obama linked his current office to the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination at the ballot box through obstacles like literacy tests. Writing in an op-ed published on the website Medium, Obama thanked the civil rights leaders whose work led to the law,

"We owe them a great debt. I am certain I wouldn’t be where I am today without their sacrifices," he wrote.

Along with Martin Luther King Jr., one of those leaders he thanked was Congressman John Lewis, who joined Obama on a videoconference Thursday afternoon. 

Obama said that more needs to be done to shore up the voting rights of Americans of all races, arguing that the Voting Rights Act has been weakened in state legislatures and U.S. courts to defend against voter fraud, despite little evidence of fraud in in the country.

"Almost nobody wakes up and says 'I'm going to go vote in somebody's name,'" he said. 

For example, a Texas state law requiring prospective voters to show a state ID was overturned on Wednesday, with an appeals court ruling it violated the Voting Rights Act.

If similar efforts are allowed to continue, Obama said, "the decisions that are made in the corridors of power all over this country begin to reflect the interests of the few instead of the interests of the many." 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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