Legislation has been introduced in Congress to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Called the "Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006," the bill, introduced on May 2, would extend the act for 25 years. It also would update several provisions of the original Voting Rights Act to take into account continuing obstacles to voting by minority voters.
The legislation also would clarify some provisions of the Voting Rights Act that Congress has concluded have been misinterpreted by the United States Supreme Court.
Rep. Melvin L. Watt, D-North Carolina, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the legislation "historic."
"The legislation is so critically important because it will restore to the act's original intent the rights of minority citizens to participate fully at the ballot box," Watt said. "The continued pervasiveness of racially polarized voting in the jurisdictions covered by the act's expiring provisions demonstrates that racial and language minorities remain politically vulnerable, warranting the continued protection of the act."
Key provisions of the act that would be reauthorized and extended by the bill introduced today include:
• Section 5, which requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal pre-clearance of any new voting practices or procedures before they may be implemented;
• Section 203, the bilingual ballot provisions that ensure that some citizens with limited English proficiency are able to read ballots in a language they can understand; and
• Sections 6 though 9, which authorize the Attorney General to appoint federal election observers where he finds evidence of attempts to intimidate minority voters at the polls or prevent them from exercising their right to vote freely.
Watt praised the historic efforts of Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. who led the movement that resulted in the passage of the original Voting Rights Act in 1965. He said Lewis was once again the "moral force and leader" in the introduction of the bipartisan bill.
Lewis called the vote "precious, almost sacred."
"It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy," Lewis said. "We gather here today in this bipartisan, bicameral way to affirm its importance and openly commit to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act."
Leading up to the introduction of the bill, the House Subcommittee on the Constitution held 10 hearings to receive oral and written testimony from witnesses, including supporters and opponents of reauthorization.
The hearings examined the effectiveness of each of the expiring provisions in remedying discrimination and protecting minority voters over the past 25 years, as well as their continued need.