CONGRESS SHOULD ACT NOW, TO REAUTHORIZE VOTING RIGHTS ACT.
Bruce S. Gordon
President and CEO, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The U.S. House leadership has allowed a small band of extremists in the U.S. House of Representatives to steal H.R. 9, the bill aimed at renewing and restoring the Voting Rights Act (VRA). They are led by Charles Norwood (R-GA) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and others. The House had been expected to vote on the bill on June 21, 2006.
The members who acted against the VRA represent retrogressive forces in America. Their actions would return us to a time when the rights of racial and ethnic minority Americans - specifically the right to vote -- were not protected or enforced.
Rarely does a bill have the bipartisan and bicameral support in the House and the Senate that H.R. 9 possesses. House leaders must move past this small group of obstructionists and get this bill back on track immediately. The bill should be moved back to the floor so that it can follow the democratic process of debate followed by an up-or-down vote.
Let's not lose anymore time and get this done! The nation's continued progress towards equality demands it. Representatives are scheduled to leave Washington soon for the July 4th recess. House members should not go home until they have finished the job of renewing the VRA.
We celebrated the VRA's 40th anniversary last year and noted the progress that's been made since its enactment. But we must rededicate ourselves individually and as a nation to uphold the promise of the act.
Despite the fact that 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 in 1870, states and local municipalities continued to use tactics such as poll taxes, literacy tests and outright intimidation to stop people from casting ballots. Thus the VRA was enacted, to insure that no federal, state or local government may in any way impede people from registering to vote or casting a meaningful ballot because of their race or ethnicity.
Most provisions in the VRA, and specifically the portions guaranteeing that no one may be denied the right to vote because of race or color, are permanent. But in 2007, key provisions of the VRA will expire unless renewed. These include the federal pre-clearance provisions, bilingual voting provisions, and the provisions that authorize the deployment of federal observers where there is potential for intimidation of minority voters on Election Day.
Extensive hearings in the House and Senate have shown some states, local municipalities and jurisdictions have proven records of discrimination and are still trying to use official means to discourage racial and ethnic minority Americans from registering and voting.
Without question, America is a better place today than it was in 1965 because of the VRA. But discrimination against minority voters still exists....
Our work is not finished. We have not reached our goal of every voter having an equal opportunity to determine the distribution of political power. We can see that America has improved, but we are not there yet. At a time of bipartisan support for creating a multiethnic democracy in Iraq, we need bipartisan support for a multiethnic democracy at home.
Unlike many other issues, reauthorizing the VRA is a 'no-brainer' for most Congressional members. The NAACP urges all members and friends to reach out to their Representatives and Senators to stress the urgency of passing a clean version of the bipartisan, bicameral Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 and reject all amendments.
In this election year, no elected official should want to be recorded as opposing one of this nation's most prized rights for all citizens-the right to vote. We urge Congress to move now to revalidate this monumental legislation that empowers all Americans.
Last month, the legislation was abruptly taken off the House calendar the morning of a scheduled vote after a small group of southern lawmakers voiced objections to key provisions. The bill, entitled The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, will renew provisions of the 1965 historic act that are set to expire in 2007.
"For more than 40 years, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has protected the right of every American citizen to cast a vote. Equality in voting is fundamental to the American democratic system. Stop the stalling and pass the Voting Rights Act now!"
Call on Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act.