The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) strongly endorsed legislation introduced today in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize and restore expiring portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The legislation, named the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, would extend what is widely considered the most effective civil rights law in American history.
Testimony during extensive hearings before the House Judiciary Committee demonstrated that barriers to equal minority voter protection remain in the United States. There are on-going hearings in the Senate. The bill has received bi-partisan support. The original co-sponsors include Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.); Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Bill Frist (R-Tenn.); Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.); Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa); Barack Obama (D-IIll.); and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). In the House, Reps. William Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.); John Conyers (D-Mich.) Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Dennis Hastert (R-Ill); Mel Watt (D-N.C.); Steve Chabot (R-Ohio); John Lewis (D-Ga.); and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)
"We are hopeful that both houses of the Congress will pass these bills and the president will sign them within the next five months," said NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton. "We must protect the right to vote for all Americans by ensuring that the VRA continues to work effectively to combat discrimination and the gains that have been achieved for minority voters are not rolled back."
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was enacted in response to significant and pervasive discrimination in voting in several states, has been renewed four times. African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority Americans are guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was passed just after the Civil War in 1850, but some states and local municipalities continued to use tactics such as poll taxes, literacy tests and outright intimidation to stop people from casting free and unfettered ballots.
Three of the Act's key provisions are set to expire in August of 2007: Section 5 pre-clearance, which prevents covered jurisdictions with a history of discrimination from implementing voting practices with a discriminatory purpose or effect; Section 203 language assistance, which requires covered jurisdictions to provide language assistance to citizens who are limited-English proficient; and Sections 6-9 federal observers, which authorize the federal government to use observers in elections to monitor VRA compliance.
The hearings held in 2005 and 2006 in the House and Senate have found a new generation of tactics, including at-large elections, annexations, last minute poll place changes and redistricting which have had a discriminatory impact on racial and ethnic minority American voters. The NAACP believes that the Georgia voter identification law and Louisiana's refusal to allow satellite voting by voters forced to relocate to other states because of Hurricane Katrina amount to violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To date, the U.S. Justice Department has not agreed with this interpretation.
In the 41 years since its initial passage, the Act has empowered minority voters and had the effect of desegregating legislative bodies at all levels of government. Since 1965, when the Act was implemented, the number of African American elected officials has grown from fewer than 280 nationwide to more than 9,100.
Other original co-sponsors also include Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio); Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); Richard Durbin (D-Ill); Chuck Schumer (D- N.Y.); John Warner (R- Va.); Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii); Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.); Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii); George Allen (R-Va.); Mary Landrieu (D-La.); Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
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