Question of the Month:

Termination of 1965 Voting Rights Act

August 2004

Q:  Did you know that our right to vote will expire in the year 2007? Seriously! The Voters Rights Act signed in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson was just an ACT. It was not made a law. In 1982 Ronald Reagan amended the Voters Rights Act for only another 25 years. Which means that in the year 2007 we could lose the right to vote.

-- Internet Letter, 2004

A:  African Americans will not lose the right to vote in 2007. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 will not expire in 2007. The rumor is false! The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is an extension of the 15th amendment, which assures that African Americans will always have the right to vote. No one may be denied the right to vote because of his or her race or color. The prohibitions stated in the 15th amendment are permanent.

What is the Voting Rights Act? The Voting Rights Act was passed to protect African Americans and other minority citizens -- their rights to register, vote, and participate fully in the political process. The Act was enacted at a time when for decades in some areas of the South, African Americans had not been permitted to vote due to discriminatory practices. African Americans who even attempted to vote in these areas risked losing their jobs, their homes, even their lives. To combat this situation Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, an addition to permanent provisions banning racial discrimination, which contains special provisions that protect minority voting rights in certain areas of the nation.

What could expire in 2007? The special provisions of the Voting Rights Act such as, Section 5, prohibiting some state or local governing bodies, from state legislators to school boards, from changing in any way, regulation, or practice that affects the right to vote without first submitting the change to the United States Department of Justice or the federal courts for approval. Any voting change made within one of the federally covered jurisdictions must be submitted for pre-clearance from the United States Department of Justice. The federally covered jurisdictions include all of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia; and, parts of North Carolina, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, New York, Wyoming, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This requirement gives citizens the chance to prevent or stop discriminatory practices before they actually take place, such as at-large elections, discriminatory redistricting, the use of unsuitable polling place locations, or re-registering requirements. Section 5 is especially important because it provides a quick, efficient way to halt new efforts in covered jurisdictions to discriminate against minority voters.

Is there any truth to the rumor? There is some truth in the rumor; the special provisions included in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were extended to 1970, and again to 1975. In 1975 the Act was amended to include members of certain language minority groups; citizens of Spanish, Native Alaskan, American Indian and Asian heritage are now protected under the Act. The Act also protects any voter who needs assistance in the voting process because of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write. Finally, in 1982 Section 5 of the Act was extended for 25 years, hence the 2007 paranoia. The need to re-authorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is extremely imperative; however, your right to vote does not and will never expire.

August 2004 Response by:
Jonah H. Goldman
Voting Rights Project
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
1401 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20005


For additional information read:

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Voting Section, "Voting Rights Act Clarifications," available from http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/misc/clarify3.htm/; Internet; accessed 1 August 2004.


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