The Voting Rights Act of 1965 became a federal law in direct response to local and state governments in the United States denying African American citizens the right to vote due to the color of their skin. The local and state governments were acting in defiance of the Constitution. Since the initial piece of legislation in 1965, additional amendments have been added to ensure that all American citizens have access to the ballot.
A recent letter to the editor titled, “Basic Facts on the Illegal Immigration Crisis” referred to federal laws mandating language assistance. While this is true, the ‘basic facts’ are not related to illegal immigration. In 1975, Congress passed the bilingual language requirement of the Voting Rights Act in order to allow equal opportunity to participate to minority citizens who spoke little to no English. This was in response to a lawsuit brought by Asian American citizens. The previous letter referenced fifteen languages, but there is no set number of languages, as the groups of individuals this represents have many subgroups of languages. Specific groups of citizens covered by this provision are as follows: American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Spanish-heritage citizens. According to the Department of Justice, in 2016 the Census Bureau gave its most recent determination that these populations continue to be the groups of citizens that face the most barriers to the political process.
In Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, the rationale explains, “Among other factors, the denial of the right to vote of such minority group citizens is ordinarily directly related to the unequal educational opportunities afforded them resulting in high illiteracy and low voting participation. The Congress declares that, in order to enforce the guarantees of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, it is necessary to eliminate such discrimination by prohibiting these practices, and by prescribing other remedial devices.” Those remedial devices can include items listed in the previous letter to the editor, such as interpreters and alternative ballots. Those things are protected under federal law.
My hope is that every voting age citizen cares enough to register to vote, educate themselves about the voting process, research candidates rather than just listen to the echo chambers we gravitate to, and then to actually follow through and vote. Sometimes that vote means crossing our traditional party lines and voting for the person who will best represent our interests in the future. American citizens of all ages, races, religions, abilities, and genders have died for our right to do so.