Civil Rights Coalition Lauds Bipartisan House Vote to Renew Landmark VRA, Looks to Senate for Swift Action

Media 07.13.06

Washington – This afternoon civil rights groups joined Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Congressional Black Caucus chair Mel Watt (D-NC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus member Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) to discuss the importance of renewing expiring protections in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The law has been renewed four times with bipartisan support. The support in favor of today’s House renewal set a new record, 390 votes on final passage.

“Today’s landslide House vote to renew expiring protections in the landmark Voting Rights Act reaffirms this nation’s commitment to equality for all its citizens,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. “Forty years ago, a bipartisan group rose above partisan politics to pass a law that is considered to be the nation’s most successful and transformative civil rights statute – one that has helped reshape the contours of America by extending the benefits of democracy to all Americans.”

The Voting Rights Act overturned nearly 100 years of disenfranchisement of African-American citizens, outlawing poll taxes, literacy tests, and other impediments to the franchise that had been erected against black voters. The law’s protections now also protect Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latino citizens who experience similar discrimination, as well as those citizens who speak less than perfect English.

“Voting is the language of democracy,” said Henderson. “If you don’t vote, or are prevented from voting, you don’t count. Today, we saw Congress bringing our nation together, working to build an America as good as its ideals. It is now time for the Senate to move quickly to get a bill on President Bush’s desk before the August recess.”

The event was organized by a coalition of civil rights organizations including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).


Civil rights leaders made the following statements:

“This is an important step in authorizing our nation’s premier civil rights law. Clearly, after twelve hearings in the House and nearly as many in the Senate, the case has been made that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its protections are as necessary now as they were 40 years ago. It is our hope that the Senate will now move forward swiftly to get a bill passed and on the desk of President Bush before the August recess.” – Hilary Shelton, Director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP

“The Voting Rights Act is perhaps one of the most important civil rights laws as the right to vote helps to protect other rights. The VRA is designed to combat voting discrimination and to break down language barriers to ensure that all Asian Americans, like other Americans, can fully exercise their right to vote. For years, Asian Americans have suffered discrimination at the polls and still face language barriers when attempting to vote…A healthy democracy depends on maximizing – not impeding – the ability of citizens to cast their ballots.” – Karen K. Narasaki, President and Executive Director, Asian American Justice Center

“Some have suggested that partisan foot dragging on the Voting Rights Act is a response to the recent immigrant community marches. If so, it is an affront to the march for democracy at home and abroad. The Voting Rights Act makes elections more understandable for all U.S. citizens and brings them closer to government institutions. People march and vote because they believe they will be heard. Those few who are blocking Voting Rights Act extension cannot be allowed to shut the door to democracy. The Voting Rights Act, including its bilingual voting provisions, has always been bipartisan. It is way past time for the House Republican leadership to act.” – John Trasviña, Interim President and General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund

“Today’s vote is historic for Native Americans, who have experienced a long history of disenfranchisement in the voting process. The language provisions of Section 203 in the bill, which require that elections are accessible to individuals who speak their Native language, continue to be critical for many Native communities. All Native people, particularly our elders – many of whom speak English poorly or not at all, must have access to the ballot box to exercise their rights in the voting process. NCAI and Indian Country look forward to working closely with members of the Senate to ensure that the bill is signed into law before the August recess.” – Joe Garcia, President, National Congress of American Indians