MONTGOMERY, Ala. (NewsNation Now) — More than 50 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 presidential elections, but for some the vote itself remains a topic of conversation even 55 years after the voting rights act was signed.
“Well, that voting thing must be awfully important becaue every time I turn around, somebody is attacking it. They’re trying to take it away from some people,” Joann Bland, civil rights educator said.
Bland was a young girl when she walked with the foot soldiers of the Selma to Montgomery march.
“I was 11 years old when I stood in this space on this rock,” Bland said. “I followed John and Hosea Williams up to that bridge to be beaten by law enforcement officers.
An Alabama official is working to change that legacy.
Republican Secretary of State John Merrill said he can’t change what happened in the 50s and 60s, but he can “do something about what happens today.”
“Alabama has not always been looked at as a bastion of voting right freedoms. It’s been looked at, in many ways, as a place that restricted the opportunity for our people to be able to have their voice heard and their vote counted,” Merrill said.
Merrill said the state has a record of 3,692,163 registered voters. He says no state in the union has done what Alabama has done.
However, Alabama senator Doug Jones, a Democrat, says there is more to the story.
“We’ve registered a lot of people. They have made it easy to register to vote, and I give them credit for that,” Jones said. “But there’s like 800 to 900,000 people in the state who’ve never cast a vote that are already registered.”
Alabama may not be in play in the 2020 election, but in the shadow of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, in the year in which John Lewis died, the cause he marched for remains very much in play.
“We’re standing in the middle of the housing project that you have to be poor to live here. I grew up here,” Bland said. “I know that it is hard and when your circumstances stay the same, and you vote every year and nothing happens. I’m still here. I still don’t have a job. I’m still poor. My kids still go to schools that need money.”
In Alabama, the civil rights legacy is everywhere and so is the legacy of John Lewis.
“I think it puts a greater responsibility on us to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to preserve, protect and ensure the integrity of the vote for all of our people,” Merrill said. “I had a very positive relationship with congressman Lewis, I was honored to have known him.”
Sen. Doug Jones knew John Lewis well. The democrat campaigned in Troy, Alabama, the birthplace of Lewis.
“I have channeled John so much in the last few months especially on social justice, racial justice, and the voting rights act,” Jones said. “To stand up to speak out, to cause that good trouble. I mean, it’s just part of my DNA at this point. John’s smiling and he’s looking down and saying ‘you go Doug.'”
Lewis’ importance to the state and this fight didn’t pass with the congressman.
Bland says the struggle continues.
“I don’t think Alabama is any different than any other state. Voter suppression is nationwide and the forces out there that are still trying to stop people from voting, even though we have the voting rights act,” Bland said.