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The Voting Rights Act has been in effect for 34 years, and in that time, it has provided courts with the authority to challenge the exclusion of Blacks from the voting booths, and as such, has made it possible for them to exercise both their citizenship through normal participation in the political system and to serve as elected representatives in many different legislative bodies. Because of the powers vested in the Act, such as the pre-clearance provision of Section 5 for changes in electoral law by covered states, and Section 2 which spurred the creation of single member districts, in virtually no area of the country are Blacks excluded from the polls or from the right to stand for election to office.

It is, therefore, an irony that in the face of the proven utility of this law that it stands in jeopardy of being rendered useless, especially where the election of Black officials is concerned. To begin with, the highest level of Black turnout in national elections occurred in 1964, the year before the Act was passed, and it has declined from 64% to 37% in the most recent elections of 1996 and 1998. African Americans must reverse this trend toward dis-empowerment by returning to the polls. This is made even more urgent by the fact that the Supreme Court has launched an assault on the use of race in the drawing of political jurisdiction boundaries. The possible impact is that although the Shaw v. Reno decision related to North Carolina's Congressional District 5, the decision will affect virtually every conceivable kind of district drawn by state legislatures and other bodies. Such actions may foster the decline of Black elected officials at every level of government.

 

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November 1999