On the 40th anniversary of the VRA’s passage, Jesse Jackson led a march and rally in Atlanta with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), other members of Congress and activists. Bringing attention to reauthorization is a good thing. Bringing attention through misguided political attacks, name calling and race baiting and is a bad thing. Consider some of the following examples.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) stated, “We are here to take on President Bush and Dick Cheney.” Actor Harry Belafonte called Black Republicans in the Bush administration “Black tyrants.” Perennial parader Jesse Jackson said, “Race baiters and discriminators may go underground, but they never move out of town.”
Activist Greg Mathis called for reauthorization on the grounds that the Bush administration and Republicans are “the enemy of our progress.” He added, “They shot and missed when they enslaved, segregated and oppressed our people. They shot and missed when they stole the past two presidential elections. They shot and missed when they denied our right to vote.”
Mathis might want to check his history book. The VRA was opposed in 1965 by nearly every Southern Democrat, and it was Democrats who formed the Ku Klux Klan in the 1800s to terrorize and lynch Blacks who dared register to vote or vote for Republicans.
So what’s the problem here? The problem is that the Democrats have no domestic centerpiece issue for 2006, so they are borrowing one from 2007, the year the VRA must be reauthorized. Let’s first get the facts straight on the VRA, even though most Democratic leaders want to ignore them.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) prohibits racial discrimination in voting, registering to vote, and drawing new congressional districts. Though the VRA applies to the entire nation, it contains special provisions for specific counties and nine states that in 1965 were most responsible for denying citizens of racial minorities access to the polls. Under the VRA, the specific states, counties and other voting jurisdictions must submit to the U.S. Department of Justice proposed changes in their voting procedures to ensure that proposed changes are not discriminatory.
The special provisions requiring federal oversight of voting procedures are scheduled to expire in 2007. Congress has extended these provisions three times since 1965, and should do so again. The next reauthorization, however, should extend these provisions to all fifty states. Voting fraud and questionable election outcomes have occurred in jurisdictions outside those specifically covered by the VRA, and protections against future fraudulent practices should be ensured for every American.
The VRA’s basic prohibitions against discriminatory voting laws and practices are permanent and do not expire in 2007. Yet some congressional Democrats and the so-called “Black leaders” are spinning the deadline to scare minority voters into thinking that their right to vote will disappear completely in two years if the special provisions are not reauthorized.
The VRA has been called the most successful civil rights legislation in history. Since it was enacted the percentage of registered voters from racial minorities registered to vote has risen astronomically. In 1965, just 7 percent of Blacks were registered to vote in Mississippi, 19 percent were registered in Alabama, and 27 percent were registered in Georgia. According to 2004 Census statistics, 64 percent of the U.S. Black voting age population is registered to vote, compared to 68 percent of Whites.
The Bush administration and Congressional Republican leaders of course support reauthorization of the VRA. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated, “This administration looks forward to working with Congress on the reauthorization of this important legislation.” House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and others are on record for supporting reauthorization of the special provisions.
Congressional Republicans should move reauthorization to the top of their 2006 agenda and vote on the bill a year early. That will take the air out of the Democrat’s election year strategy, making the issue for them as flat as their leadership.