Reauthorize the Voting Rights Act

Submitted by Ofer Inbar on Sun, 06/25/2006 - 7:22pm.

(The statement below was written by John Bonifaz; I contributed links and minor edits -- Ofer)

Last Wednesday, the Republican caucus of the US House of Representatives stopped the House Republican leadership from bringing to a vote a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a reauthorization that would have surely passed with broad Democratic support. As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote:

"In one breathtaking moment of clarity, we see that a significant portion of the House Republican caucus is determined to deep-six, or at least fatally weaken, a landmark law designed to make it possible for the nation's largest minority groups to exercise their franchise at the polls -- and designed to make it difficult for anyone with nefarious intent to keep these minority citizens from voting."

Southern Republicans objected to the Act's requirement that certain jurisdictions in the country - namely in the South - with a long history of racial discrimination in voting be subjected to pre-clearance by the US Justice Department of any changes made in those jurisdictions to their election laws. But, as Robinson points out, those objections alone would probably not have prevented the reauthorization vote from coming to the House floor. Rather, other members of the House Republican caucus raised a separate objection: "the act's requirement that bilingual ballots be made available in localities where significant numbers of voters speak a language other than English."

It is an outrage that this landmark voting rights law is facing this kind of opposition. If Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 taught us anything, it is that there are still people today who will dare to trample on the right to vote and to deny the franchise. I agree with Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. that, in addition to renewal of the Voting Rights Act, we also need to place affirmative language in the US Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote.

As we carry on that struggle for a constitutional amendment, we must renew the Voting Rights Act, a critically important safeguard against the continued discrimination in voting that takes place in our country.

The Voting Rights Act's requirement - via Section 203 of the law - that jurisdictions provide the necessary assistance to language minorities has particular relevance today to Massachusetts. The US Justice Department is currently investigating four of our cities - Boston, Lawrence, Springfield, and Lowell - for potential violations of this section of the Act, and Boston has already settled a Justice Department lawsuit brought last fall. In accordance with a consent decree filed with the federal district court, the City of Boston is now under election monitoring by US government officials through the 2008 elections. All of this has occurred under my opponent's watch while serving as the state's chief elections officer. While community leaders have, for years, brought the current Secretary of State evidence of this ongoing discrimination and have sought his intervention, he did nothing, remaining missing in action -- and his silence ultimately led to the Justice Department taking the lead to enforce the Voting Rights Act here in our state.

As a Democratic candidate for Massachusetts Secretary of State, I will continue to speak out in support of renewing Voting Rights Act (see #9). Beyond that, as Massachusetts Secretary of State, I will not rely on the Bush Justice Department to enforce the Voting Rights Act in Massachusetts. I will enforce it throughout our Commonwealth.

Where is my opponent in this fight? Massachusetts deserves better. We ought to be leading the nation in how we conduct elections. And that starts with new leadership in the Secretary of State's office.

(Sign the PFAW's emergency petition to pass the Voting Rights Act)