Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Urge Dave Camp to Support H.R. 9, the Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act

From the ACLU:

This bill (H.R. 9) would renew and restore the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA has guaranteed millions of minority voters a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted by eliminating literacy tests, language hurdles and other discriminatory barriers to voting.

Although we have come a long way over the years, discrimination in voting remains a significant issue in the United States. State and local governments continue to submit plans, laws and regulations specifically designed to prevent minorities from fully participating in the political process. In fact, since the VRA was last renewed in 1982, the Department of Justice has made more than 1,000 objections to proposed voting changes under Section 5 of the act.

Yet despite this ongoing discrimination, a handful of lawmakers are trying to delay consideration of H.R. 9 in an attempt to weaken or eliminate two key provisions of the VRA Section 5 and Section 203. Not surprisingly, these lawmakers come from states that have the most pervasive records of continued voter disfranchisement. (Georgia and Texas are at the top of the list-JT.)

Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval of any new voting practices or procedures. Obtaining federal approval is critical because it prevents discrimination before it happens, ensuring that minorities are able to exercise their right to vote.

Section 203 was enacted because Congress found that language minorities face discriminatory voting practices that exclude them from participating in the political process. It prevents discrimination by ensuring that American tax-paying citizens with limited English proficiency get the help they need at the polls. According to the 2000 Census, three-quarters of all voters covered by Section 203 are native-born citizens.

Language assistance promotes the integration and political participation of citizens who had previously been excluded from the political process due to their limited English proficiency. And according to two separate Government Accountability Office studies, as well as private university studies, when implemented properly language assistance accounts for only a small fraction of total election costs. A minor price to pay for electoral fairness.

Let's be clear: The progress we have made to end discrimination in voting is largely the result of Section 5 and Section 203. If these provisions are weakened or allowed to expire, it is likely that many of the covered jurisdictions will backslide and implement discriminatory voting practices.

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This will possibly be voted on as early as next week, so we need to contact Camp to urge him to support it. Whether or not he actually supports it depends, of course, on what his party tells him to do. But it is worth a shot.

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