After a cadre of extreme ideological conservatives blocked consideration of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) reauthorization last month, House leaders finally allowed members to vote on this critical bill this week. It passed on by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 390-33. VRA is generally considered the most successful piece of civil-rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress, and its renewal enjoys broad bipartisan support.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the "Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006" (H.R. 9) by an overwhelming vote of 33-1 in May. The bill would extend VRA to protect and preserve the voting rights of all Americans.
Since the House Judiciary Committee approved the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006” in May, House leaders have capitulated to the most extreme elements in their caucus, allowing them to offer amendments that weaken voting-rights protections and further delay consideration of the bill. Thankfully, the House rejected attempts to gut VRA's most important provisions, including the preclearance rules under Section 5 and the language requirements under Section 203.
The compromise passed by the House extends Section 5, which requires certain covered jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to seek preclearance of election law changes from the Justice Department. This provision ensures that state officials cannot make changes that would disenfranchise minority populations from exercising their constitutionally protected right to vote. In the wake of recent Supreme Court interpretations that opened loopholes in the law, the compromise strengthens Section 5, restoring the original meaning of the phrase "to protect the ability of such [minority] citizens to elect their preferred candidates of choice."
The compromise would extend the language assistance provisions in Section 203, requiring counties with more than five percent or 10,000 language-minority citizens to provide voting assistance in a language other than English. It would also extend Sections 6-9, which empower the Department of Justice to dispatch federal observers to monitor the polls.
The bill protects the rights of minority voters and ensures that all citizens can exercise their right to vote. Despite conservative attempts to weaken VRA by eviscerating its most important section, a broad bipartisan coalition defeated these amendments.
At a time when voting rights are already under siege by the administration's political appointees at the Justice Department, now is not the time to delay or dilute our civil-rights laws. The Senate should follow suit and and renew the Voting Rights Act.
To read more about the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, see also:
- Celebrating and Strengthening the Voting Rights Act
- Statement on the 40th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act
- Honoring Rosa Parks: Moving from Symbolism to Action
- Voting After Katrina: Ensuring Meaningful Participation (PDF)
To read more about the Bush administration's unprecedented assault on voting rights, see the following resources (available at the Center for American Progress Action Fund):