31 March 2006

1965 Voting Rights Provisions to Expire

Marcus Franklin, AP - Mar 31, 2006

On what would become known as "Bloody Sunday," voting rights marchers in March 1965 reached the highest point on the Edmund Pettus Bridge near Selma, Ala., and saw a blue sea of uniforms awaiting them at the end of the bridge.

Television would show images of Alabama state troopers armed with guns, night sticks, bull whips and tear gas severely beating marchers. Days later, President Lyndon Johnson promised to bring Congress an effective voting rights bill, and that August he signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered one of the most significant laws in the nation's history.

Now, more than four decades later, sections of the act are set to expire. The looming expiration date — Aug. 6, 2007 — has ignited debate over the provisions' effectiveness and relevance, and over whether they should be extended.

It also has generated rumors, mostly on the Internet, that black Americans will lose the right to vote en masse next year. The rumors have prompted officials at the U.S. Justice Department to post a notice on their Web site.

"It's important for folks to know that the right to vote — even if those sections expire — will not expire," said Justice Department spokesman Eric W. Holland.

The provisions — last renewed by Congress in 1982 for 25 years — cover a wide range of protections. They allow the government to approve new voting procedures in areas with histories of discrimination and send election monitors to make sure voters are allowed to cast ballots and their votes are counted. The provisions also send officials to register voters in counties where blacks are refused registration.

"It's a myth that we stand to lose the right to vote, but we do stand to lose critical protections that have allowed us to participate fully in the political process," said Debo Adegbile, associate director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "We've seen consistently, even with the provisions in place, continuing efforts to weaken minority voices in the electoral process."


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