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Congress: Reauthorize section of Voting Rights Act

By Rep. Steve Gallardo

The current voting rights of minorities in Arizona are at risk because Congress has not reauthorized Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 set to expire in 2007.
Members of Congress are scheduled to break for the 4th of July. In all, about 45 days remain in their session. I am concerned that Congress will go home without reauthorizing Section 5 because of a small band of Republican renegades from the South recently prevented the U.S. House of Representatives from voting on H.R. 9, the bill that would reauthorize Section 5.
H.R. 9, which has bipartisan support, is too important for a small group of Southern Republican Congressmen to block. Congress should not go home until it has protected the most fundamental rights of minorities in Arizona.
The Voting Rights Act guarantees federal oversight when states and local governments change their election laws and political boundaries. Though Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act covers all states, Arizona is one of 18 states that are covered by Section 5. Continuing Section 5 is vital to ensuring that Latinos, Native Americans, African-Americans, and other minorities in Arizona have equal access to voting and full political representation.
The federal law was approved after African-Americans spent nearly a century fighting to ensure that their vote counted. The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, approved in 1870, says that the right to vote shall not be denied to anyone on the basis of race. However, African-Americans faced poll taxes, literacy tests and other impediments. Finally, in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and gave African-Americans their first real access to the voting booth.
If Section 5 is not reauthorized, Arizona will experience devastating consequences. A lack of federal oversight will allow extremists in the Arizona Legislature to create election barriers.
Currently, some polling locations are required by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide bilingual ballots and bilingual poll workers. However, if federal oversight ends, these requirements also likely will disappear because some bureaucrat will view them as budgetary items that can be cut to fund something else.
Unfortunately, recent history shows us that Arizona needs federal oversight. The U.S. Department of Justice has never approved Arizona’s political boundaries on the first go-around. The U.S. Department of Justice has found fault each time and has demanded the boundaries be redrawn for fairness. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Native Americans in Arizona have experienced election discrimination.
More than a half of the current Latinos who are registered to vote in Arizona registered since 2000. Both Republicans and Democrats are hoping this group of the electorate will choose their candidates. At the same time that Republicans are courting this group of voters, they are attempting to restrict their right to vote.
There has been progress during the last 40 years, but there is much more work to be done before the promises made in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are fulfilled. This law, considered one of the most important pieces of legislation from the Civil Rights Movement, must be renewed before minorities in Arizona are disenfranchised. I urge you to call your Congressmen at 1-866-808-0065 to tell them Arizona needs federal oversight.
Rep. Steve Gallardo is a Democrat who represents District 13. E-mail him at sgallardo@azleg.gov

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