New York—As the push to renew the Voting Rights Act intensifies, hundreds of voters and activists from the Tri-State area gathered today at the SEIUs Local 32BJ to discuss the need to stop key provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) from expiring, and underscore the critical role those protections have played in promoting minority voter registration, turnout, and representation since its passage in 1965.
Forty years later, the Voting Rights Acts protections for minority voters are still urgently needed, especially for voters in our communities not yet fluent in English or who continue to face discrimination at the polls. The Voting Rights Act must be reauthorized and strengthened without delay, in order to remove existing barriers to political participation, said Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), who opened the session.
The Voting Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination in voting nationwide, was passed in 1965 to stop discrimination in voting by prohibiting practices like literacy tests and unfair redistricting schemes. Several key protections will expire in August of 2007 unless Congress takes action to renew them. These provisions include Section 203, which provides language assistance for citizens who are limited-English proficient, and Section 5, which requires states and counties with a recent history of discrimination to receive prior approval before they can make changes in their election laws. Another set of temporary provisions enables the Department of Justice to send federal election observers to monitor elections in certain states and counties.
During the evenings workshop, community leaders, area attorneys, and local advocates discussed ways to involve Tri-State networks and communities around the national campaign to renew and restore what is largely recognized as the nations most effective civil rights law, and announced plans to hold educational events in the coming months.
The VRA provisions up for renewal are vital to prevent discrimination at the voting booth against communities of color and language minority voters, said Tony Simone, Deputy Director of People For the American Ways Northeast Regional Office. We must educate, inform, engage and empower activists and the general public on how important this civil rights act is to protect the right to vote for all Americans.
Todays Voting Rights Act Reauthorization Forum is part of a national educational outreach effort to put a spotlight on expiring voting rights protections, was sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF), People For the American Ways Northeast Regional Office, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and more than a dozen other national and Tri-State organizations. RenewtheVRA.org, a coalition of the nations leading civil rights organizations, has organized similar workshops in other major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Antonio. For more information on the Voting Rights Act and the national public education campaign to renew and restore its expiring protections, visit www.RenewTheVRA.org.
Additional sponsoring organizations of the VRA forum include: SEIU Local 32BJ, SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East, NY ACORN, The Bronx Defenders, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Community Service Society, Institute for Puerto Rican Policy, Center For Law and Justice, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, NYPIRG, New Jersey Appleseed, Common Cause NY, Korean American League For Civic Action, Hispanic Federation, DEMOS and others.