- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Rev. Jesse Jackson yesterday called on local religious and political leaders “to take the struggle back to the streets” as he discussed his efforts to collect 1 million signatures to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in full.

“The right to vote means nothing without the right to education and the right to health care,” Mr. Jackson said at the 12,000-member Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, where he has preached once a year since the early 1980s.

The civil rights activist said he thinks there will be a “massive groundswell of people” who will support the effort to renew the law in its entirety. Certain provisions of the law expire in 2007.

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, at the height of the civil rights movement in the South that was committed to securing equal voting rights for blacks. The law bans racial discrimination in voting, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mr. Jackson, who is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said the campaign for reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act will culminate with a march in Atlanta on Aug. 6 — the 40th anniversary of the signing of the legislation.

The rights of minority voters “are permanent and do not expire” because they are guaranteed by the 15th Amendment, according to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

But certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act are set to expire. Among them, one requires all or parts of some states to get federal approval before implementing any changes in voting procedures, such as moving district lines and relocating polling places.

Another provision sets criteria for election monitoring and language requirements.

On its Web site, the Justice Department says that even if those provisions expire, they can be reinstated by court order “if there is a renewal of discriminatory practices.”

Still, Mr. Jackson said he and other civil rights, religious and labor activists and leaders nationwide want the Voting Rights Act renewed in full to ensure strict enforcement of the legislation.

“If you renew it without the enforcement, you renew the hole without the doughnut,” Mr. Jackson said.

He said the petition will be presented to President Bush and members of Congress after organizers get enough signatures.

“We want people to say they’re for the Voting Rights Act or to say they’re not,” Mr. Jackson said.

Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene W. Grant, who attended yesterday’s event, said he hoped the drive also would raise public attention to other concerns about the voting process and issues such as schools and health care.

“The president and Congress are going to have to come together,” Mr. Grant said. “And we’re going to have to revisit the issue of the Electoral College.”

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