The continued value of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was made clear just two weeks ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in one Texas congressional district, Republican Party leaders had robbed Hispanics of political influence by using district boundaries to split Hispanic populations.
Key provisions of the bill, added in 1975, are up for review, and the rabid radicals among the Republicans have set up roadblocks for measures that should be reauthorized with little debate.
The sunset provisions expire next year, but their reauthorization already has been addressed in the House of Representatives. House Resolution 9, a bill to renew the act, was presented several weeks ago, but was held up after several of the Republicans, who have railed of late against all things that aren’t Anglo, insisted that all ballots across the country should be printed in English only.
Under the law, voting assistance must be provided in a foreign language in any political subdivision where that language is used by more than 10,000 voters, or 5 percent of eligible voters, and illiteracy is high. In Texas, New Mexico and other states that border Mexico, that means information and ballots must be available in Spanish. In other areas the translations might be in Chinese, Vietnamese or even a native American dialect.
Some of the xenophobes have tried to use the unity card in arguing against the language assistance. “In my opinion, this mandate exacerbates isolation and segregation,” said U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., according to The Miami Herald.
We fail to see, however, how any action can isolate a part of our population more than impeding their right to vote, and thus weakening their voice and participation in government decisions.
It’s worth noting that in Stearns’ home state of Florida on Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Emilio T. Gonzalez noted that some 45,000 of our current U.S. troops are non-citizen immigrants. foreign born. Gonzalez, addressing the Senate Committee on Armed Forces, noted that another 26,000 military personnel had become naturalized Americans since 2001.
“By fighting to defend the Constitution, immigrant service members gain an added respect for the enduring civic principles it guarantees: those of freedom and opportunity for all men, equality before the law, respect and tolerance for difference, and the primacy of individual citizens and the rights to govern the nation,” said Gonzalez, who himself is an immigrant.
“Service members are united not by a common heritage, race, religion or creed but rather by this universal code that builds character, breeds conviction and encourages valor,” he said. “The code has a way of superceding nationalities.”
How sad that while these brave men and women are fighting — and dying — on foreign soil to defend our freedoms, some elected officials want to make it clear that those born on foreign soil aren’t welcome back at home.
Another argument thrown out against translated ballots is it’s an added cost to governments that must provide them. Our democracy suffers a greater cost, however, when people feel compelled not to vote because they don’t understand ballot propositions. Besides, as technology brings us closer to computerized voting and paperless balloting, the matter of cost should become negligible.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s own Web site calls the Voting Rights Act “the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress.” The fact that some of the act’s most important provisions are at risk of being scuttled indicates just how far this nation has regressed in terms of equal protections under the law.