2006-06-16 / Community

Congressman Meeks Calls For Extension Of Voting Rights Act

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks recently released the following statement on the Extension of the Voting Rights Act, "There are few things as critical to our Nation, and to American citizenship, as voting.

Among the greatest achievements of our country was the enactment of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which President Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965. Like the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the right to vote is foundational because it secures the effective exercise of all other rights.

The very legitimacy of our government is dependent upon the access all Americans have to the political process.

"Among the brave people fighting for voting rights was Fannie Lou Hamer of Mississippi. She was a sharecropper and the granddaughter of slaves. In 1962, at age 44, she was surprised to learn from civil rights workers that African Americans actually had a constitutional right to vote. When the workers asked for volunteers to go to the courthouse to register to vote, Hamer was the first to raise her hand. After she got to the courthouse, she was jailed and beaten by police. She began to receive death threats and shots were fired at her. Undeterred, Hamer became a civil rights activist and spent the next three years traveling around the country speaking out on voting rights.

"The price paid by those allied with the Civil Rights Movement was high: churches were burned and bombed, people were beaten and shot, and some were killed.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the result of an historic struggle for civil rights also led by such American heroes as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks, who refused to be treated as second-class citizens. .

"From this type of courage and perseverance, the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the 'crown jewel' of our civil rights statutes, was born. Enacted in 1965, the Act provided extensive protection to minority communities by prohibiting any voting practice that would abridge the right to vote on the basis of race. Any "test or device" for registering or voting was forbidden, effectively abolishing poll taxes and literacy tests.

In 1975, the Voting Rights Act was expanded to protect the voting rights of significant language minority voters - such as Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Alaskan Natives - by requiring language assistance at the polls.

This critical provision helps ensure all voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot they can understand. Unlike other parts of the Voting Rights Act, the 'pre-clearance' provision and the language assistance provision will expire this coming year if Congress fails to act extend them.

"I believe it is critically important that Congress quickly enact H.R. 9, the bipartisan, bicameral Voting Rights Act Reauthorization, which strengthens and renews the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years and reaffirms an enduring principle of our democracy: that every citizen is guaranteed the right to vote. No delays or efforts to weaken this important bill should be tolerated and it should be promptly sent to the President's desk for his signature.

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