Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bittersweet Victory on Voting Rights Act

The Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they are terrified of an honest vote that includes all registered voters. They illegally and immorally falsified the presidential elections of both 2000 in Florida and 2004 in Ohio. They do this by throwing away tens, or hundreds, of thousands of votes of minorities. This is, to date, perhaps their biggest lie, of many.

Last week, the Senate reauthorized the expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act in a 98-0 vote, after more than ten thousand ColorOfChange.org members, along with folks from the NAACP and other organizations, demanded its immediate passage. Thursday, the President signed the act.

Thank you for helping to make this happen. While we believed that the Senate would eventually reauthorize the VRA, it wasn't clear that it would happen so quickly. Our actions left no room for any Senators to try to stall or undermine the act, as some members of the House had done just a couple of weeks before. Our collective effort shows that when we act together with a strong voice, we can make change.

The Fight Ahead – why no one should be clapping for Bush

Just before the Senate vote, President Bush addressed the NAACP and talked about his commitment to voting rights. Some Black members in the audience ate it up, and their cheering and clapping provided a great backdrop for his speech. That day, Bush declared himself an ally, but his administration's actions tell a completely different story. The record shows that his statements were just talk.

The truth is that the Bush administration has actively worked to undermine the VRA by gutting the Justice Department's ability to enforce it. Bush appointees have used their authority to approve controversial election plans that would disenfranchise minority voters, over the strong objections of career civil rights attorneys in the department.[1] A recent example is the department's review of a law passed in Georgia that would have required voters to present a photo ID to vote. The appointees overruled veteran attorneys who objected, and it wasn't until a federal court intervened that the law was struck down.[2]

In addition, Bush's appointees, breaking with tradition, have taken control of the hiring process in the Civil Rights division of Justice, and are replacing veteran civil rights lawyers with conservatives who have little or no interest, or experience, with civil rights law. Before the Bush administration changed hiring practices, 77% of DOJ Civil Rights division attorneys had backgrounds in civil rights- now only 42% do. And most of them got their "civil rights" experience defending employers accused of discrimination or fighting against race-conscious policies.[3]

It's clear that the stakes are high in the fight to protect voting rights. Winning reauthorization of the VRA was just one victory in a continuing battle. We can't just thank Congress and the Bush administration for the crumbs they throw at us, or be placated by sound bites. We deserve more; our democracy requires more; and we must demand it. Together, we are on our way to becoming a powerful political force. Thank you for helping us win this fight and for being a part of our collective effort to change the color of democracy.

Thank You and Peace,
-- James, Van, Clarissa, Gabriel, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org

1. Politics Alleged in Voting Cases, Washington Post, January 23, 2006
2. A weaker rights enforcer, The Boston Globe, July 26, 2006
3. Civil rights hiring shifted in Bush Era, The Boston Globe, July 23,2006
4. Civil Rights Focus Shift Roils Staff At Justice, Washington Post, November 13, 2005

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