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How the historic March on Washington helped impact voting rights

Some say voting inequality remains for many 57 years later

HOUSTON — Problems at the polls seem as inevitable as hot Texas summers.

Remember long lines at a number of Houston voting locations earlier this year?

But waiting in lines to vote wasn’t even an option for many minorities until the 1963 March on Washington and other events prompted sweeping change.

“I’m sure that many thing will happen as a result of the march,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said during the historic event.

King watched two years later as President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which outlawed discriminatory practices like poll taxes and literacy tests as prerequisites to voting.

“I would put the March on Washington pretty high on the list of important events that framed the pre-history of what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, without question,” Mark Lawrence, director of the LBJ Presidential Library and a former UT history professor, said.

The library has an extensive collection of materials related to the passage of the landmark voting legislation.

"Still though, I think there were significant barriers," Lawrence said. "Connected not so much to legal factors, of course, after the adoption of the Voting Rights Act, but to everyday social pressures, cultural norms that inhibited people from voting.”

Some say many hurdles remain when it comes to equal access to the polls.

"The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act made huge advancements," Common Cause Texas Director Anthony Gutierrez said. "But we still face a lot of challenges today.”

Nonpartisan Common Cause Texas cites things like polling place closures, voter role purges, ID requirements and antiquated machinery.

There's also the more timely topic of vote-by-mail which Texas has yet to significantly expand.

"It really doesn’t make any sense during normal times," Gutierrez said. "But, in particular during this pandemic, people should not have to go to a polling site in person.”

He and others hope everyone can vote free from confusion, suppression or intimidation this November.

Those are aspirations that seem to exist no matter the decade.

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