Voting Rights Act and the Need for an Alert Congress

by Shanti Alexander // Published July 14, 2006
Civil rights activists breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when the Voting Rights Act passed the House with an overwhelming majority. But in the month that the voting was delayed, Americans have been left with many troubling questions. Why did a bill that has been celebrated by many as the bastion of progress for racial equality take so long to be renewed? Why is the faith in the system so low that civil rights activists felt compelled to hold a vigil on the eve of the House meeting? In the old days, fears that minorities would be deprived of their right to vote ran rampant and protests in this domain were necessary. In the current age, one would hope that we have progressed enough to not worry whether voting rights will be awarded equally regardless of race, religion or creed.

The sad truth is that the root of the problem is Congress" laissez-faire attitude towards voting rights. If the Congress truly believed that the right to vote was "˜fundamental", as House Speaker Dennis Hassert declared yesterday, then there wouldn"t be fear that this fundamental right would not be accorded equally. There wouldn"t have been a month-long delay and the Voting Rights Act would have been instantly, if not unanimously, passed. If Congress believed that the right to vote was indeed sacred, they would have vigilantly protected this right - the debacle over Georgia"s voter ID law and Tom DeLay"s mid decade redistricting plan in Texas, is evidence enough that we need to protect the right to vote more fully.

Instead, they allowed these discriminatory rulings either to pass or to go unchecked, leaving it to the courts to look out for this right. While the judiciary is an arm of the government, and all three chambers should be equal, the right to vote is one that should be uniformly protected by all three - the House, the Senate and the courts. If two chambers remain dormant, then the whole purpose of checks and balances has become redundant.

It is time for Congress to step up to the plate and give the people what they deserve - progress, freedom and liberty - by passing the Voting Rights Act. The government also needs to act in tandem to protect this cornerstone of democracy - the right to vote.