Co-Sponsor Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 (Senate)

Media 05.4.06

Recipient: U.S. Senate

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we write to vigorously support and urge you to co-sponsor S. 2703, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 (VRARA). S. 2703 is critical to ensuring the continued protection of the right to vote for all Americans.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is considered by many to be our nation’s most effective civil rights law. Congress enacted the VRA in direct response to evidence of significant and pervasive discrimination taking place across the country, including the use of literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, threats, and violence. By outlawing the tests and devices that prevented minorities from voting, the VRA put teeth into the 15th Amendment’s guarantee that no citizen can be denied the right to vote because of the color of his or her skin. The VRA was initially passed in 1965 and has been renewed four times by bipartisan majorities in the U.S. House, and signed into law by both Republican and Democratic presidents. In the 41 years since its initial passage, the VRA has enfranchised millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens by eliminating discriminatory practices and removing other barriers to their political participation. In doing so, the VRA has empowered minority voters and has helped to desegregate legislative bodies at all levels of government.

Throughout the 109th Congress, during ten oversight hearings that considered the ongoing need for the VRA, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution found significant evidence that barriers to equal minority voter participation remain. The oversight hearings examined three of the VRA’s key provisions that are set to expire in August of 2007: Section 5, which requires that certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting obtain federal approval prior to making any changes affecting voting, thus preventing the implementation of discriminatory practices; Section 203, which requires certain jurisdictions to provide language assistance to citizens who are limited-English proficient; and Sections 6 through 9, which authorize the federal government to send observers to monitor elections for compliance with the VRA.

The evidence gathered by the House subcommittee revealed continuing and persistent discrimination in jurisdictions covered by Section 5 and Section 203 of the VRA. The oversight hearings found that a second generation of discrimination has emerged that serves to abridge or deny minorities their equal voting rights. Jurisdictions continue to attempt to implement discriminatory electoral procedures on matters such as methods of election, annexations, and polling place changes, as well as through redistricting conducted with the purpose or the effect of denying minorities equal access to the political process. Likewise, the oversight hearings demonstrated that citizens are often denied access to VRA-mandated language assistance and, as a result, the opportunity to cast an informed ballot. We are confident that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings will further bolster the need to renew and restore the VRA.

S. 2703 is a direct response to the evidence of discrimination that was gathered by the subcommittee. It addresses this compelling record by renewing the VRA’s temporary provisions for 25 years. The bill reauthorizes and restores Section 5 to its original congressional intent, which has been undermined by the Supreme Court in Reno v. Bossier Parish II and Georgia v. Ashcroft. The Bossier fix restores the ability of the Attorney General, under Section 5 of the Act, to block implementation of voting changes motivated by a discriminatory purpose. The Georgia fix clarifies that Section 5 is intended to protect the ability of minority citizens to elect their candidates of choice. Section 203 is being renewed to continue to provide language-minority citizens with equal access to voting, using more frequently-updated coverage determinations based on the American Community Survey Census data. The bill also keeps the federal observer provisions in place, and authorizes recovery of expert witness fees in lawsuits brought to enforce the VRA.

The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy and the VRA provides the legal basis to protect this right for all Americans. We urge you to support this critical civil rights legislation.

To co-sponsor the VRARA, please contact Dimple Gupta, Chief Counsel in Senator Specter’s office, at (202) 224-5225, [email protected]; Kristine Lucius, Senior Counsel in Senator Leahy’s office, at (202) 224-7703, Kristine_Lucius@judiciarydem.; or Charlotte Burrows, Counsel in Senator Kennedy’s office, at (202) 224-7878, [email protected] . If you or your staff have any further questions, please feel free to contact Nancy Zirkin, LCCR Deputy Director, or Julie Fernandes, LCCR Senior Counsel, at (202) 466-3311.

Wade Henderson, Executive Director
Nancy Zirkin, Deputy Director