Subject: IPR POLITICA LIST: PUERTO RICANS AND THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT
July 27, 2005
Puerto Ricans and the Voting Rights Act:
40 Years of Influence
Monday, August 8, 2005
Community Service Society
105 East 22nd Street, Rm. 4A
corner of Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010
RSVP at 212.614.5462 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Gilberto Gerena Valentín
Section 4(e) of the VRA of 1965 was passed pursuant to an amendment
proposed by NY Senators Robert Kennedy and Jacob Javits. Effectively, it is the
"Puerto Rican Section" of the VRA of 1965 because it exclusively
benefited Puerto Ricans in the U.S.
The untold story however, is that Section 4(e) was the catalyst for 3
major developments in the United States:
1) It led to the designation of 3 counties in NYC (New York
[Manhattan], the Bronx and Kings [Brooklyn]) to be covered under Section 5. That's
right, without Section 4(e) litigation in NYC, we never would have had Section
5 coverage in the city and this lead to the significant rise in Black,
Latino and Asian voices in all levels of government. Section 4(e) lawsuits
brought by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund proved that
discrimination in voting existed in NY (as if that needed further proof
in the 1960s and 70s) and re-captured the 3 covered counties after NY had
successfully convinced the federal courts not to include them under
Section 5. By demonstrating that voting rights discrimination was a feature of
life in the North (and of all places, in NY), this led to a broader,
national debate that focused voting rights abuses outside of the deep South.
2) Section 4(e) cases provided the legal foundation to expand Section 5
coverage to areas of the country where voting rights abuse and
intimidation against Mexican Americans was rampant (especially in Texas). Section
4(e) cases ruled that English only election systems were a "test or device"
for voting that operated to unlawfully exclude eligible citizens (i.e.,
Puerto Ricans), just like literacy tests were a "test or device." The
Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund took those Section
4(e) cases and made the convincing case in Congress in 1975 that English
only election systems, coupled with other indicia of low voter turnout,
required Section 5 to cover new jurisdictions. The result? All of Texas was
covered; parts of Arizona, parts of California, parts of Florida. This is major.
3) Section 4(e) cases proved that a bilingual election system worked.
If it worked in NYC, the largest city in the country, it could work anywhere.
As a result, creating the new bilingual assistance provisions under the VRA
in 1975 was not, in the words of the relevant House Committee, a "radical
step" for Congress to undertake because it was already accepted practice in
NYC. The result? Election systems were opened up for Latinos throughout the
country; and for Native Americans, Asian Americans and Alaskans as well
-- another major element in American democracy today.
Herman Badillo, Gilberto Gerena Valentín and Irma Vidal Santaella all
testified in Congress in the 1960s to obtain federal protection for
Puerto Rican voters who were stopped from registering to vote in NYC. The
result was the adoption of Section 4(e).
The rest is history. Come hear it and appreciate it on August 8th --
two days after the historic 40th Anniversary of the signing of the Voting
Rights Act of 1965.
IPR Política List is an e-newsletter published by the Institute for
Puerto Rican Policy (IPR) for persons and institutions interested in the study
of Puerto Rican/Latino politics and policy.
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