Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Renew the Voting Rights Act

Pop quiz, folks!

Recently, the Republican-dominated US House of Representatives decided to cancel a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act because:

a) it discriminated against the ability of some Southern states to discriminate
b) Republicans wanted to make ballots English only
c) there are state laws in the pipelines that would force more stringent identification like driver's licenses as a prerequisite to being able to vote
d) all of the above.

The Wall Street Journal says, "The federal Voting Rights Act protects minority populations from diminution of their electoral strength."

Find background on voting right here and take action !!!

Clarence Page, an op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune writes in "Tinkering with Votnig Rights":
Yet, one need only peruse some of the approximately 1,000 cases upon which the Justice Department has acted since the Voting Rights Act was last renewed in 1982 to find plenty that has kept the department busy.

In 2001, for example, the all-white board of aldermen in Kilmichael, Miss., just happened to cancel the town's local elections only three weeks before Election Day, just as it was becoming apparent that the town's first black mayor and council members might be elected. The aldermen, elected at large, wanted the delay so they could remap the town into districts, which would have protected some board seats held by whites. That wasn't a good enough reason for the Justice Department, which rejected the change.

In 2003, election officials in suburban Harris County, outside Houston, failed to provide bilingual assistance to Vietnamese voters, who had grown to almost 2 percent of the county population. The Justice Department and Asian-American legal-aid organizations worked out an agreement that resulted in bilingual assistance and other reforms. In the wake of those changes, Harris County elected its first Vietnamese candidate, Democratic businessman Hubert Vo, to the Texas state legislature in November 2004.
And I firmly believe that lack of in-language voter education or poll station materials has kept the APA community without electoral power. In states and municipalities where APAs have access to properly translated in-language voting materials, our elders (who sometimes don't read English but are citizens entitled to vote nonetheless) are able to cast their votes for the candidates that they prefer. In Hennepin County, Minnesota, ballots are translated into Hmong, Vietnamese. Minnesota has 3 Asian Pacific American elected officials in the state legislature, which is quite large compared to the percentage of the state's population. Coincidence? I think not.

This is one of the questions that gets at the heart of why I started this blog in the first place, on the first anniversary of the 2004 Presidential elections.

Electoral reform and voting rights are not necessarily sexy aims since they are more procedural in nature. But it is through these fights over procedure and the nitty gritty rules that we are able to allow our fellow new Americans to vote. After all, in the political view of the world, it doesn't matter if you have 1 million new citizens in your movement if they can't vote because they don't have the proper ID. So voting rights complements and is part of the immigrant rights struggle.

We are constantly having to prove that we matter to the politicians. But those who would see us "go back to where you came from" understand the inside rules and procedures and will attempt to manipulate them to disenfranchise us in any way possible, to reduce the political power that we should have (see Tom Delay's redistricting efforts here ). Thus we must be vigilant, understand our rights, comprehend the complex machinations, and block their loopholes and riders. It's not the glamorous work of putting together sit-ins but it is just as necessary.

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