U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Voting Rights Act Clarification
The Department of Justice has received numerous inquiries concerning a rumor that has been intermittently circulating around the nation for many months. According to this rumor, the Voting Rights Act will expire in 2007, and as a result African Americans are in danger of losing the right to vote in that year.
The rumor is false. The voting rights of African Americans are guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, and those guarantees are permanent and do not expire.
Here is a summary of relevant provisions of the Voting Rights Act:
- The 15th amendment to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibit racial discrimination in voting. Under the 15th amendment and the Voting Rights Act no one may be denied the right to vote because of his or her race or color.
- These prohibitions against racial discrimination in voting are permanent; they do not expire.
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted at a time when for decades in some areas of the South blacks had not been permitted to vote, and blacks who attempted to register to vote or to organize or assist others to attempt to register to vote risked losing their jobs, their homes, even their lives.
- To combat this situation Congress included in the Voting Rights Act -- in addition to permanent provisions banning racial discrimination -- special provisions containing extraordinary remedies that applied in certain areas of the nation for a limited time period.
Among these extraordinary remedies are--
- the authorization of the U.S. Attorney General to send federal registrars (examiners) to register voters, in counties where the local registrar refuses to register blacks. [Section 6, 42 U.S.C. § 1973d]
- the authorization of the U.S. Attorney General to send federal observers to monitor elections, to make sure that blacks who are eligible to vote are actually permitted to vote, and that their votes are actually counted. [Section 8, 42 U.S.C. § 1973f]
- the requirement that specially covered jurisdictions gain the approval of the U.S. Attorney General before implementing new voting practices or procedures, to make sure that any voting changes that they make are not racially discriminatory. [Section 5, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c]
- These special provisions containing extraordinary remedies were intended to be of limited duration. They were originally scheduled to expire in 1970, but they were extended in 1970, and again in 1975 and 1982. They are now scheduled to expire in 2007, if not further extended.
- Even if the special provisions are allowed to expire, they can be reinstated by court order if there is a renewal of discriminatory practices.
- The basic prohibition against discrimination in voting contained in the 15th amendment and in the Voting Rights Act does not expire in 2007 -- it does not expire at all; it is permanent.
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Posted April 2, 1998