Mark Ridley Thomas

Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, shown in April, sponsored a measure urging federal lawmakers to update the Voting Rights Act after part of it was found unconstitutional. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times / April 16, 2013)

Reacting to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution Tuesday urging federal leaders to pass legislation to update the act so that it protects voters from disenfranchisement and passes Constitutional muster.

“We want to keep democracy vibrant and make sure all those who wish to participate and have a right to participate not be denied” the ability to vote, said board chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the motion along with Supervisor Gloria Molina.

The board approved the resolution 3-1, with Molina absent and Supervisor Mike Antonovich opposing the motion.

Antonovich said that the Supreme Court ruling left voters’ ability to challenge discriminatory laws intact, that the law failed to notice the progress many states have made in insuring equal access for minority voters, and that it was important for states to be able to insure elections were fair, such as by enacting voter ID laws.

“The Supreme Court did not overturn the Voting Rights Act; they did not allow governments to now pass laws to discriminate against citizens based on race, color or any other protected class,” he said.

Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights. The invalidated portion contained a formula used to determine which states and jurisdictions had a history of discrimination, and were required to get approval from federal judges or the U.S. attorney general before making changes to their voting laws.

The hearing took place on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and a short film was presented that included clips of the march and Martin Luther King Jr. delivering the “I have a dream speech.” Several people, including King ally James Lawson, spoke.

“No matter how much progress we have seen … we have a long way to go and this motion before you today is an illustration of what can be done at the grass-roots level by our elected officials,” Lawson said.

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