Congress Stalls on Voting Rights Act

From: Kathy Guthrie kathyguthrie@fcnl.org
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Legislative Action Message

Congress Stalls on Voting Rights Act

A small number of representatives are stalling the renewal of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights legislation that protects the rights of all citizens to vote for candidates of their choosing. The act has been renewed four times under the leadership of both parties, but a small list of mostly Southern representatives are now proposing substantial amendments that would greatly diminish the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act.

With a little bit of effort now, we can persuade Congress to renew this important law. Renewal of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) got off to a good start earlier this year. In early May, leaders in both houses of Congress introduced identical bills, each with impressive lists of cosponsors. Now, two months later, the House bill, H.R. 9 has 152 cosponsors, and the Senate bill, S. 2703 has 48 cosponsors. Leaders in the House and the Senate have said that they have the votes to pass this important legislation.

Take Action

FCNL is joining with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and hundreds of other national and local organizations to make a major lobbying push for renewal of the VRA this month. Your representative will return to Washington this week. Urge your representative to support and push for immediate action on the Voting Rights Act. Ask him or her to take up the Voting Rights Act renewal and to pass it with no major amendments in early July. Contact your representative and find talking points for your message on FCNL's website.

If you have a few more minutes, you can also contact your senators to urge their support of the Voting Rights Act renewal.

Background

What is the Voting Rights Act? The Voting Rights Act is one of the most effective civil rights laws ever passed. Since its adoption in 1965, it has protected the right of all citizens to vote for candidates of their choosing. The law has been renewed four times under the leadership of both parties.

What parts of the Voting Rights Act need to be renewed?

Section 5, which requires certain states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to “pre-clear” any proposed changes in state voting laws or local procedures with a federal court or the U.S. Department of Justice. Section 5 is designed to prevent voter discrimination in places where there is reason to believe that it may occur again.

Sections 6 through 9, which provide for federal elections examiners and observers in certain jurisdictions. Where voter discrimination continues to occur, citizens may need outside observers to secure their right to vote and to have their votes count equally with all other votes.

Section 203, which requires jurisdictions with significant numbers of people who are not proficient in English to offer language assistance to voters. Three-quarters of the people who need language assistance are native-born citizens, not immigrants. A large number who need assistance are native-born English speakers who have difficulty understanding the complex written language used in ballot measures.

Find out more about the three key renewable provisions (PDF).

Why do we still need the VRA?

The VRA is still needed. Ten hearings in the House of Representatives over the past two years, together with 14 state reports prepared by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, have gathered and presented strong evidence that the country still needs the renewable provisions in the Voting Rights Act. States and local jurisdictions that are covered by the enforcement provisions in the act can remove themselves from coverage by maintaining a clean record on voting rights issues for a period of ten years. A number of jurisdictions have “graduated” from coverage – but many more have continuing problems.

Why must the Voting Rights Act be renewed now?

Most of the Voting Rights Act is permanent, but a few important provisions – notably, key enforcement provisions – must be renewed by 2007, or they will expire. This year, strong supporters – such as Rep. Sensenbrenner (WI) – are in key roles in Congress, and their leadership has assured strong bipartisan support of the renewal legislation. As a new Congress gets organized in 2007, the momentum for passage could be lost in the Congress’s crowded spring calendar.

How can I find out more?

Read myths and facts about the Voting Rights Act and find out in which jurisdictions the key provisions apply (PDF).


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Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 Second St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-5795
fcnl@fcnl.org * //www.fcnl.org
phone: (202)547-6000 * toll-free: (800)630-1330

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