Congress Begins Hearings on Voting Rights Act, ACLU Urges Lawmakers to Renew and Restore Landmark Civil Rights Law

October 18, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, for holding a series of hearings over the next few weeks on the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. Key sections of that vital civil rights law will expire in 2007 unless Congress votes to renew them.

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“In the 40 years since its passage, the Voting Rights Act has proven to be one of the most effective civil rights laws ever enacted,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The act has guaranteed millions of minority voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Despite progress, barriers remain. This historic legislation is still vital to protecting the right to vote for millions of citizens, and making sure all Americans can elect officials to represent their needs.”

Today’s hearing, the first of nine scheduled, examined the history, purpose and current state of the Voting Rights Act, including the amendments of 1975, 1982, and 1992. Several sections of the act will expire in 2007 unless Congress votes to renew them. These include:

  • Section 5, which requires states with a documented history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain federal approval before changing elections laws.
  • Section 203, or the “language provision,” which provides assistance for Americans with limited English proficiency to navigate complicated ballots.
  • Sections 6 to 9, which authorize the federal government to send federal election examiners and observers to certain jurisdictions covered by Section 5 where there is evidence of attempts to intimidate minority voters.

The ACLU noted that since the Voting Rights Act has been enacted, millions more minority voters have been able to vote and elect officials of their choosing. More than 9,100 blacks now hold elected offices at all levels of government-up from 300 in 1964. And more than 6,000 Latinos are elected officials as well. However, recent lawsuits in South Dakota, Georgia and elsewhere demonstrate that voting discrimination still occurs.

“The Voting Rights Act continues to safeguard the right to vote for millions of Americans,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “In coming months, we trust that lawmakers will take steps to preserve this historic legislation, so that it will continue to protect this fundamental aspect of our democracy.”

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