The House voted yesterday to renew the Voting Rights Act after long debates about its necessity. The Act, H.R. 9, was renamed “The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006” to honor these women for their continued and devoted efforts to achieve justice and equality for all people. Originally passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act eliminated race discrimination, poll taxes, and literacy tests at the polls and established additional measures in areas in which race-based discrimination occurred in the past – particularly in the South.
Debates in the House were initiated primarily by conservative Southern Republicans who demanded amendments that would have weakened the bill. Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican from Georgia, claimed that the renewal of the Act without amendments would mean that “states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven,” according to the New York Times. A total of 390 members voted for the Act, and 33 voted against it; all 33 lawmakers who voted against were Republicans, mostly from Southern and border states.
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal joined other prominent women earlier this week to urge Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act immediately. Smeal and others recognize that the Voting Rights Act has empowered women of color – both as voters and as elected officials. As part of their statement, Smeal and 62 other women acknowledged that “giving a voice to the voiceless has always benefited women.”
The Senate still needs to vote on the Act. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has already called for a vote before the August recess.