Statement on the Introduction of the Senate and House Bills to Renew the Expiring Provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way

Today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R- WI, 5th), ranking Democrat Rep. John Conyers (D- MI, 14th), and Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C., 12th) introduced bills to renew Sections 5, 203, and 6-9 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, key provisions of the VRA set to expire next year.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered one of the most significant civil rights laws ever passed. Section 5 requires states and counties with a history of discrimination to receive prior approval before they can make changes in their election laws. Section 203 provides language assistance for voters who are limited-English proficient and illiterate, and Sections 6-9 enable the Department of Justice to send federal election observers to monitor elections in certain states and counties.

PFAW President Ralph G. Neas released the following statement:

“This is a great day for everyone concerned with protecting the right to vote. In the face of strong, sometimes violent, opposition to the passage of VRA, civil rights activists and citizens would not go quietly into the night. They took a stand for generations of racial minorities to have equal access to the ballot box. Forty years later, some say voting discrimination is a thing of the past. We know better. And we must stand firm with the bipartisan backers of the VRA’s reauthorization.

“I especially want to express my sincere gratitude to Senator Specter and Chairman Sensenbrenner for their commitment to work across the aisle with Senators Leahy and Kennedy and Congressmen Conyers and Watt. They have done the right thing for America’s voters by moving forward to reauthorize and restore this landmark civil rights measure that ensures a fair and equal voting process for all.”

“As we support the provisions of this bill, we continue to support the expansion of Section 203 to include other languages so that all citizens in this nation of immigrants can be full participants in our democracy. We will support our members of Congress and continue to work with our coalition partners to renew and restore these key provisions within the VRA as swiftly as possible and seek passage of this monumental reauthorization bill before Congress recesses in August.”

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