ACLU Joins National Call for the Renewal of the Voting Rights Act; Stands with Civil Rights, Women's Rights and Labor Organizations

March 21, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — If portions of the Voting Rights Act are not renewed, hard-won voting rights protections will vanish, leaving millions of Americans vulnerable and unable to participate equally in elections, the American Civil Liberties Union said today with leaders from civil rights, women’s rights and labor organizations.

“Nothing is more fundamentally American than the right to vote,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Voting gives citizens a voice in the national dialogue, and if the Voting Rights Act expires, that important voice will be silenced. Congress must act to ensure that thousands of Americans will not be turned away at the polls.”

The groups are calling for a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — one of the most successful civil rights laws in U.S. history. The Act ended literacy tests, poll taxes and other purposefully racially biased mechanisms used to deny minorities the right to vote. Portions of the key statute are set to expire in 2007.

Leaders from the nation’s top civil rights, women’s right and labor organizations launched a national campaign today to urge Congress to fully reauthorize and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The groups said they will gather one million signatures for a petition to Congress. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union, Kim Gandy of the National Organization of Women, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and others joined the ACLU’s Murphy.

The country has changed substantially since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the ACLU noted, but significant roadblocks to voting rights remain. For example, in South Dakota, a recent court decision detailed two decades of systematic voting rights abuses against Native Americans. And redistricting plans in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama have been halted because they disenfranchised black, Latino and Asian Americans.

“While progress has been made, violations of the Voting Rights Act are still a persistent feature of the American political landscape,” added LaShawn Warren, an ACLU legislative counsel. “The nation has yet to ensure that all Americans have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process — the ideal of ‘one person, one vote,’ is still just that – an ideal.”

Congress most recently reauthorized sections of the Voting Rights Act in 1982, during the Reagan administration. Certain provisions will expire in 2007, including:

  • A requirement that states with a documented history of discriminatory voting practices submit planned changes in their election laws to federal officials for pre-clearance. A bipartisan Congressional report in 1982 warned that without this section, discrimination would reappear “overnight.”
  • Provisions that guarantee access to bilingual election materials for new citizens trying to learn the language.
  • The authority to send federal examiners and observers to monitor elections.

For more on the ACLU’s efforts to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, go to:

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