Crucial Amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965-Not the Act-Will Expire in 2007: Coalition Building Should Start Now

Article excerpt

Does the Voting Rights Act of 1965 expire in 2007? No, it does not. What expires are crucial provisions, "extraordinary remedies," originally scheduled to expire in 1970, which were extended in 1970, and again in 1975 and 1982.

Many reports discuss the expiration of the Voting Rights Act in 2007. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement correcting that "rumor." "The voting rights of African Americans are guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, and those guarantees are permanent and do not expire."

While the rights are guaranteed, their enforcement largely depends on the "extraordinary remedies" originally targeted at southern states. These remedies are:

* the authorization of the U.S. Attorney General to send federal registrars (examiners) to register voters, in counties where the local registrar refuses to register blacks;

* the authorization of the U.S. Attorney General to send federal observers to monitor elections, to make sure that blacks who are eligible to vote are actually permitted to vote, and that their votes are actually counted; and

* the requirement that specially covered jurisdictions gain the approval of the U.S. Attorney General before implementing new voting practices or procedures, to make sure that any voting changes that they make are not racially discriminatory.

It is not too early to organize a broad coalition to assure another extension of these provisions.

Jesse Jackson Sr. is organizing a coalition of civil, labor and women's rights organization, and churches to launch a national campaign in support of the reauthorization. (The In These Times report, April 18, 2005, by Rev. Jackson also mistakenly states that the 1965 Voting Rights Act must be reauthorized, instead of just the special provisions cited above.)

A society is shaped by its politically active members. Some, we all know, are more influential than others. At a minimum, however, everyone who belongs to a particular political body should have one vote. That prerogative reduces the influence of wealth and mitigates against the employment of raw power. Collectively, as we have witnessed on the international scene, votes can make a difference.

The American record of extending the right to vote to its citizens has been spotty at best. We started out by boosting the influence of slave-owning states by counting 3/5 of their slaves in determining the size of their U.S. House delegation, while, of course, slaves could not vote. This cynical use of including slaves boosted southern representation which solidified slavery for decades to come.

It took years to ban race and sex discrimination in voting. Even today, citizens in our capitol cannot participate in Congressional elections. The more than four million cizens who live in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the U. …