Reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act

Article excerpt

While Congress considers legislation to reauthorize sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that expire next year, we must insist that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to enforce the act as it now exists. In Louisiana and Georgia, we have two dramatic examples of the department's refusal to enforce the law that was enacted to ensure that no federal, state or local government in any way impedes people from registering to vote or voting because of their race or ethnicity.

It seems the federal government has taken the position that it is perfectly okay to do whatever is necessary to secure voting rights for Iraqis and to enable Iraqi nationals living in the United States to vote in Iraq elections. However, when it comes to U.S. citizens who were evacuated because of a hurricane disaster to states less than 300 or 400 miles away, the federal government does not see the same need to help them vote in their election.

Louisiana's failure to take extraordinary efforts to prevent the disenfranchisement of thousands of Black New Orleanians and DOJ's total failure to enforce Section 5 of the VRA have disproportionately affected African American voters.

During the 2002 New Orleans primary, 45 percent of registered African American voters voted, compared to 50.2 percent of registered White voters. Contrast those 2002 primary turnout numbers with the April 2006 results: Only 31 percent of registered African American voters voted, compared to 49 percent of registered White voters. While there was virtually no change in White voters' ability to vote in the 2006 primary elections, Black voter participation decreased by 14 percent.

In Georgia, the state legislature passed a law requiring voters to present photo identification before being allowed to vote. This places an onerous burden on African Americans, the poor and elderly.

Despite evidence that 18 percent of Blacks within Georgia do not have access to a vehicle, compared to only 4 percent of Whites and despite the lack of a single documented incident of voter fraud by an individual who attempted to vote in person, the DOJ pre-cleared this voting change, failing again to appreciate the negative impact that it would have on African American voters.

After the NAACP and other civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit to block an earlier version of the law, the Georgia legislature rewrote the legislation. …