Statement of Chellie Pingree on the Introduction of the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization Act of 2006

Common Cause thanks the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for their efforts leading to today’s joint introduction of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. We are especially pleased by the strong language with which this bill would renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Since its enactment, the Voting Rights Act has served America well. Not only is it one of the greatest civil rights bills ever passed, it has also strengthened one of the core values we support – increasing citizen participation in our nation’s democracy. Common Cause has a proud history of support of the 1975 and 1982 extensions of the Voting Rights Act, and our former chairman emeritus, the late Archibald Cox, developed key provisions of the original Voting Rights Act, and as United States solicitor general, defended its constitutionality in oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

The Voting Rights Act has also helped break down voting barriers faced by racial and language minorities in the United States. It has ensured that greater numbers of Americans have an opportunity to participate equally in the most vital duty of citizenship.

But as indicated by the testimony and reports compiled by the House Judiciary Committee and recently submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Voting Rights Act is far from outdated or obsolete. Voters still face intimidation at the polls, last-minute election changes, redistricting schemes that unfairly concentrate or dilute their voting strength and other tactics designed to give them less of a say in political affairs. As long as these barriers remain, there will be a need for the Voting Rights Act.

We are encouraged by the bipartisan spirit in both houses of Congress and the recent statement by President Bush in support of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. We call on the House and the Senate to act this year to renew and strengthen this law by adopting the provisions contained in the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, including:

Reauthorizing the minority language provisions of Section 203 for 25 years;

Reauthorizing the preclearance provisions of Section 5 for 25 years, while strengthening the language in this section to its original 1982 intent; and

Adopting the American Community Survey as the benchmark for measuring minority-language changes under this act.

By reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, Congress will guarantee more Americans an equal voice when they participate in the political process and offer new generations of Americans the opportunity to renew the strength of our democracy.