Game Plan (Part Four)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: August 7, 2008

While I strongly and fully support renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, I want to remind the American people that they still don’t have an individual citizenship right to vote in the Constitution!”

– Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., 2nd district, Illinois, in a prepared statement.

PHILADELPHIA — The Voting Rights Act of 1965, written in the blood of many brave American citizens whose only desire was to participate in the American process, turned another page of history with the stalling of its renewal on the floor of the House of Representatives in the fall of 2005.

What seemed to be a formality to the reauthorization of the Act was brought to a screeching halt by the actions of a bloc of Republicans, spearheaded by Georgia Congressmen Lynn Westmoreland and Charles Norwood, along with Dan Lungren of California.

Westmoreland revealed he was prompted to act off of the premise the original wording of the Voting Rights Act singles out Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia for their past history of racist voting policies.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) says that in lay terms, this gambit is merely an attempt to bring things back to what they were. “The vote was pulled on Thursday, with an initial bi-partisan press conference for later that day.

“The language presented in the statement then became an issue when Westmoreland and the bloc of Republicans made their gesture. This is nothing but an attempt to regain states’ rights for those which are currently regulated by the federal government.

“The NAACP and Urban League say there should be no delay. There are clearly enough votes to pass this, and there is nothing wrong with the original language of the document,” Fattah said.

According to Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, these Republicans are seeking to take the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act by eliminating provisions that require ballots to be printed in more than one language in neighborhoods where large numbers of immigrants are located.

“These tactics are outrageous,” said Frankel. “There seem to be members of Congress who seek to diminish human rights to minorities. “I believe we are seeing with this stalling coming on the heels of things like photo IDs and moving polling places to remote locations — even going back to the 2000 Presidential election, that efforts like the aforementioned look to replace poll taxes and literacy tests as the stumbling blocks to progress.”

Locally, Congressman Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania’s 14th District, expressed his dismay at the proceedings in a statement:

“It’s typical of the Republican House Leadership to pull a bill that has bipartisan support in order to appease its most right-wing members. I believe that it’s vitally important we pass this bill to protect the rights of all Americans, and I call on the House Republicans to do the responsible thing and bring the Voting Rights Act reauthorization bill to the House floor before the 4th of July.”

This reporter also contacted the offices of Republican Reps. Nathan Deal (GA), Henry E. Brown (SC), Mike Rogers (AL) and Jim Gerlach (PA). None were available for comment when this issue was first approached while working for the Philadelphia Tribune.

The Voting Rights Act was a centerpiece of Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” This legal hammer smashed the concepts of poll taxes and literacy tests which prevailed in the southern part of the country.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) whose state had received over 80 objections from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice since the last reauthorization, and who marched for the right to vote during the Civil Rights era, expressed his remorse in a statement:

“It is ironic and very troubling that the opposition to this stems from the major objections of members of Congress from Georgia. Georgia is the last place that should seek to relieve itself from the commitment to fully empowered, equal participation that democracy implies.

“After all, it was during the middle of the last census that the Georgia State Legislature authored a redistricting plan that severely diluted the power of the African-American vote. It was Georgia that developed the ‘modern-day poll tax,’ as one federal judge called it that disenfranchises rural voters, the elderly, the disabled students and other minorities who have no government ID.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in response to the announcement by the Republican leadership that the Voting Rights Act would not be voted on, issued the following statement:

“Democrats are disappointed that the Voting Rights Act reauthorization has been pulled from the House floor today. This bill had the personal commitment and full support of the leadership of both parties in the House and the Senate.

“I hope that the Republicans will be able to quickly resolve their differences and that the Congress will be able to pass this vital legislation. It is critical that we do so as soon as possible, because our democracy depends on protecting the right of every American citizen to vote.”

Frankel reminds everyone that the voting issue is not one to sleep on. When referenced as to the validity of Rep. Jackson’s statement, he said. “That is absolutely correct — because there is no part of the Constitution that guarantees the right to vote.”

NOTE: I wish to convey my thanks to the other Sports MCs: “Professor K” Chris Murray, Finley “Doc” Pinkard and “MC Good Foot,” Mr. Wendell P. Simpson, for their input, conversation and support. Mr. Simpson also shared the by-line on Part III, (“Falling From Grace”) and supervised the editing along with Editor-In-Chief Tony McClean.