Warren Institute at University of California, Berkeley, School of Law Announces Recommendations to Amend the Voting Rights Act

Attention: News desks; national, political, legal affairs and higher education reporters

Contacts: Ana Henderson, Warren Institute (510) 643-6307
Jacqueline Phillips, Boalt Hall Communications (510) 643-6549

BERKELEY, Calif., May 10 – The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity (the Warren Institute) at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall) today announced the publication of recommendations to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to improve voters’ access to the franchise. Certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act, considered one of the most effective pieces of civil rights legislation, are set to expire in 2007, and Congress is currently debating how to reauthorize these provisions. The expiring provisions include requirements that certain jurisdictions obtain preclearance, or permission, prior to making any changes to their voting practices (“Section 5”); requirements that certain jurisdictions provide all election-related information in certain languages other than English (“Section 203”); and measures that allow the federal government to send observers to monitor polling place and vote-tallying activities in certain jurisdictions.

The Warren Institute’s recommendations are informed by commissioned research from social scientists, lawyers, and legal scholars across the country regarding the expiring provisions of the Act. The research includes both quantitative social science analyses and legal studies. Based on the findings of these studies, as well as research conducted by Warren Institute staff, the Institute advises Congress to consider the following changes to the Act during the reauthorization process:

Regarding the requirement that certain jurisdictions obtain preclearance prior to making voting changes:
1.) change the law so that voting changes made for discriminatory reasons are unacceptable;
2.) change the law so that when redistricting, jurisdictions cannot substitute districts where minority voters can elect their representative of choice with districts where they cannot do so;
3.) establish a non-partisan commission to study revising the way jurisdictions are made subject to this provision; and
4.) clarify that racial voting patterns are not to be obscured by partisan voting when courts and the Department of Justice analyze voting changes or challenged voting practices.

Regarding the requirement that certain jurisdictions provide all election-related information in certain languages other than English:
1.) adjust the formula through which jurisdictions become required to provide assistance by
   (a) lowering the current numerical threshold test of limited-English-proficient-voting-age citizens of the same language group from 10,000 to 7,500 or more and
(b) exempting jurisdictions with fewer than 25 limited-English-proficient-voting-age citizens of the same language group;
2.) Require that covered jurisdictions submit their bilingual plans to the Department of Justice for review; and
3.) Provide federal funding and technical support to assist covered jurisdictions in providing needed assistance.

In addition, the Warren Institute recommends expanding federal observer authority to allow observers in all jurisdictions that are required to provide language assistance. The Warren Institute recommends specifying that another provision of the law that allows voters to bring an assister of their choice, with certain exceptions, into the voting booth to assist them applies to non-English-language assistance. The Warren Institute calls on Congress to bring parity to fines, so that violations of the right to vote are subject to the same penalty as voter fraud; to authorize the Attorney General to collect civil penalties from jurisdictions that do not comply with the law; and to allow parties that win lawsuits to recover reasonable expert witness fees.
“For more than 40 years, the Voting Rights Act has been central to minority voters’ ability to participate in our democratic system and to access the halls of power,” said Christopher Edley, Jr., dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, “with these research-based recommendations we hope to make the Voting Rights Act an even more effective tool of empowerment for all of our nation’s citizens.”