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Voting rights

08/23/05 12:00AM By Jay Craven
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(HOST) A documentary and an anniversary have reminded commentator Jay Craven that the protection of voting rights requires an ongoing commitment.


(CRAVEN) Earlier this summer, my 12 year old son and I saw a remarkable documentary film. It's called Mighty Times, The Chil-
dren's March - and it won this year's Academy Award. It tells the powerful story of how, in 1963, 4,000 young black kids in Birming-
ham, Alabama fled school and braved fire hoses, police dogs, and prison to oppose racial segregation.

Recent celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act made me think about the film and how - like so many freedoms - voting rights represent a hard won victory against fierce opposition and even violence.

Congressman and former activist John Lewis was right when he said in The New York Times that passage of the Voting Rights Act "redeemed the soul of democracy, and freed minorities to elect candidates who better represent their values."

Several provisions of the Voting Rights Act expire during the next several years. In today's highly charged political climate, many are concerned about what will happen.

Vermonters have justified faith in our elections, but this is not true in all states. In Georgia, a new law requires voters to present state-issued photo IDs. The Secretary of State there contends that voting fraud is not an issue - and that minority voters are less like- ly to have driver's licenses or the ready means to get them.

Thousands of Voting Rights violations were alleged after the 2004 election. Members of congress held hearings throughout Ohio where voters from poor, minority, and student communities testi-
fied about harassment and having to wait up to nine hours at pol-
ling places. As in the 2000 Florida race, the Ohio Secretary of State played the dual role of election supervisor and Presidential campaign chair.

Contentious redistricting battles are altering the political balance and affecting minority communities. In Texas, the Hispanic population is growing, as its political representation declines.

This spring, the former New Hampshire Republican Chair was sentenced to seven months in jail for jamming Democratic Party and firefighters' union phone lines on election day 2002, incapaci-
tating efforts to provide rides for poor, elderly and disabled voters.

Voting Rights violations were extensive in Florida and other states during the 2000 election, as the Bush Justice Department, itself, has certified.

Americans value the commitment to one citizen one vote. Indeed, in a system of government by the people and for the people, poli- ticians and political parties are guests at the table. Partisans should not supervise elections. Efforts to harass, suppress, confuse or intimidate voters - or commit vote fraud - should be prohibited and punished.

The Voting Rights Act protects us all. It's important to oppose any new threats and barriers that compromise its essential guaran- tees.

This is Jay Craven from Peacham.

Filmmaker Jay Craven teaches at Marlboro College and directs Kingdom County Productions. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury.
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