ACLU Urges Congress to Maintain Preclearance Provisions in Voting Rights Act: Progress Has Been Made But Problems Still Exist

October 25, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON -The American Civil Liberties Union today testified before Congress that lawmakers should renew a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to submit changes to any voting law to the federal government for pre-approval. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will expire in 2007 unless Congress renews it.

“Bull Connor may be dead, but his legacy of racism lives on,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, invoking the memory of the Birmingham, Alabama police commissioner and staunch advocate of racial segregation. “There is abundant, recent evidence showing Section 5 is still needed to protect the equal right to vote of minorities in covered jurisdictions. Progress has been made, but this vital protection needs to remain in place.”

McDonald testified today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. The hearing is the third of nine that will examine the history, purpose and current state of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, including the amendments of 1975, 1982, and 1992.

McDonald stressed the continuing need for Section 5, which applies to jurisdictions in 16 states. These jurisdictions must show that any changes to voting laws will not deny or abridge the right to vote of minority communities.

The ACLU noted that the preclearance provisions of Section 5 neither punish states for historical wrongdoings, nor stifle their ability to move forward. Covered jurisdictions are able to avail themselves of a procedure know as “bailout” and remove themselves from the preclearance requirements. Nine jurisdictions in Virginia have, through the bailout process, been taken off the list of jurisdictions covered by Section 5.

Section 5 places modest safeguards to prevent discriminatory voting practices. A bipartisan Congressional report in 1982 noted that without Section 5 many of the advances made in voting rights could be wiped out overnight with new schemes and devices. Many scholars and voting rights experts agree.

“Without the Voting Rights Act, the ability of millions of Americans to elect officials that represent them would be in jeopardy,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Lawmakers must renew and restore this vital law so that the right to vote is protected.”

To read McDonald’s testimony before the subcommittee, go to:

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Voting Rights Act, go to:

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