News| Politics | Black America's Vanishing Vote: Myth or Reality?

News| Politics | Black America's Vanishing Vote: Myth or Reality?

Published February 11, 2008

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Posted Aug. 9, 2005 -- We’ve all heard the alarm: “Black folks could lose our right to vote by 2007! The Voting Rights Act is about to expire, so we should be pressing our congresspersons to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

But some people, including those in the Bush administration, say that Black Americans, nor others, have anything to fear. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a guaranteed right, they say, and it can never expire.

So who’s telling the truth?

A closer look at all the hubbub over the Voting Rights Act suggests that both sides are telling the truth, at least to some degree.

While the Voting Rights Act guarantees by law that every American – regardless of race, religion or creed – has the right to vote, there are certain provisions, African Americans in particular have relied on over the years, that will expire in 2007.

Last week, President Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, issued a “clarification,” ensuring that the Voting Rights Act wasn’t going anywhere. Here are some of his points:

  • The Voting Rights Act is permanent and will not expire.
  • The Act was enacted at a time when for decades in some areas of the South Blacks had not been permitted to vote, and Blacks who attempted to register to vote or to organize or assist others to attempt to register to vote risked losing their jobs, their homes, even their lives.
  • There are some “extraordinary remedies” that were needed in the past but not anymore. These include a provision requiring states to get permission from the federal government before changing voting procedures and another requiring states with large non-English-speaking populations to provide ballots in that language.

But a wide range of Black leaders, entertainers and community activists say that even though the administration is correct in saying that the Voting Rights Act will not expire – in its entirety, anyway – those “extraordinary remedies” are just as valid today as they were in the 1960s.

If the administration reauthorized the act minus those provisions, critics say, many Americans – especially Black and Hispanic Americans – would be denied a right to vote. Specifically, they note that:

  • Even as recently as the last two presidential elections, there were numerous incidences of voter fraud and intimidation designed to deny African Americans their vote.
  • Some states and jurisdictions continue to  stubbornly resist affording minorities a fair shake in the voting process.
  • If everyone fully supports the notion that every American deserves a vote, what harm could come out of helping those who struggle with speaking English or requiring states to gain federal approval before changing longstanding voter protections?

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Written by BET-Staff

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