On 40th Anniversary of Voting Rights Act, ACLU Says Law Still Needed; Renewal, Restoration Required to Protect Americans' Fundamental Right
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WASHINGTON – On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, the American Civil Liberties Union warned that if portions of the act are not renewed and restored, the fundamental right to vote could be jeopardized for millions of Americans. Sections of the historic law will expire in 2007 unless Congress acts to renew them.
“The Voting Rights Act has guaranteed millions of minority voters the equal opportunity to participate in elections and have their voices heard,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “Even though members of Congress have endorsed renewing the Voting Right Act, the true test of their commitment will be measured by their support of language to reinforce the original intent of the act. Congress must strengthen – not weaken – the expiring provisions of this important law.”
Forty years ago tomorrow, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, removing barriers to political participation and prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on account of race or color.
While most of the Voting Rights Act is permanent, some provisions are set to expire in 2007, including: a requirement that states with a documented history of discriminatory voting practices obtain approval from federal officials before they change election laws; provisions that guarantee access to bilingual election materials for citizens with limited English proficiency; and the authority to send federal examiners and observers to monitor elections in order to prevent efforts to intimidate minority voters at the polls.
“Forty years later these provisions are still needed,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “While much progress has been made in the area of voting rights, significant hurdles to securing voting rights for all still remain.” Warren noted that President Johnson observed when the Voting Rights Act was first introduced, “Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over.”
For example, in South Dakota, a court recently detailed three decades of systematic voting rights abuses against Native Americans. Similarly, redistricting plans in Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina have been halted because they disenfranchised black and Latino voters. Also, in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Boston and other locations, voters with difficulty speaking English continue to face resistance, and unfair practices from poll workers who don’t follow the law.
Commenting on the importance of a bi-partisan effort to renew the Voting Rights Act, the ACLU highlighted statements by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who recently spoke in Texas to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the act, saying, “The Voting Rights Act has been enormously successful, but our work is never complete. For this reason, this Administration looks forward to working with Congress on the reauthorization of this important legislation.” The ACLU noted that the White House has not made any specific commitments regarding what form the reauthorization will take.
“The Voting Rights Act was never intended to be a quick fix and as the evidence shows, problems still exist for countless Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “A strong democratic system must include protections to allow for the voices of all to be heard, and for all the votes to be counted. At a time when America has staked much of its international reputation on the importance of democracy abroad, the Voting Rights Act must be renewed – and strengthened – to ensure that fairness and equal opportunity are preserved in the voting process at home. Our system of government must remain a truly democratic republic.”
The ACLU also announced the creation of a new website dedicated to its Voting Rights Act reauthorization campaign, available at https://www.aclu.org/voting-rights. In addition to containing fact sheets and background materials, the new web site contains one of the most comprehensive historical timeline on voting rights issues currently available on the world wide web.
For more on the ACLU’s efforts to renew and reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, go to:
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Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest. The ACLU works to protect and expand Americansʼ freedom to vote.