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Will Black Voting Rights Expire?

Netlore Archive: Forwarded email rumor claims that black voting rights in the U.S. are due to expire in the year 2007 along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

December 2, 1998

ANOTHER INTERNET hoax made headlines in the past few weeks as the mainstream media got wind of the reaction among black Americans to a widely-forwarded email message claiming that their voting rights will vanish in the year 2007. Similar rumors have circulated since the mid-1990s.

The message currently raising concerns reads as follows:

PLEASE PASS THIS ON TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN!!!!

We are quickly approaching the 21st Century and I was wondering if anyone out there knew what the significance of the year 2007 is to Black America? Did you know that our right to vote will expire in the year 2007? Seriously! The Voters Rights Act signed in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson was just an ACT.

It was not made a law. In 1982 Ronald Reagan amended the Voters Rights Act for only another 25 years. Which means that in the year 2007 we could lose the right to vote!

Does anyone realize that Blacks/African Americans are the only group of people who still require PERMISSION under the United States Constitution to vote?!

In the year 2007 Congress will once again convene to decide whether or not Blacks should retain the right to vote (crazy, but true). In order for this to be passed, 38 states will have to approve an extension.

In my opinion and many others, this is ludicrous! Not only should the extension be approved, but ... this Act must be made a law. Our right to vote should no longer be up for discussion, review and/or evaluation.

We must contact our Congress persons, Senators, Alderpersons, etc., to put a stop to this! As bona fide citizens of the United States, we cannot "drop the ball" on this one!

We have come too far to let government make us take such a huge step backward. So please, let us push forward to continue to build the momentum towards gaining equality. Please pass this onto others, as I am sure that many more individuals are not aware of this.

[ READ FULL TEXT ]


(UPDATE: A latter-day version of this message attributes authorship to Camille Cosby, wife of comedian Bill Cosby. She did not write it.)

Analysis: The kernel of truth in the text is that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is indeed set to expire unless it is renewed by Congress before 2007. The rest of it is false. The basic right of all American citizens to vote, regardless of race, is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and can't expire with the Voting Rights Act.

The NAACP addressed this issue in a statement quoted in the November 19, 1998 issue of the online newsletter Internet Tourbus:

African American voting rights were granted by the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed immediately after the Civil War. Expiration of the Voting Rights Act will not terminate the rights granted under the Fifteenth Amendment.

The U.S. Department of Justice concurs. In its "Voting Rights Act Clarification" dated April 2, 1998, it states:

The basic prohibition against discrimination in voting contained in the Fifteenth amendment and in the Voting Rights Act does not expire in 2007 - it does not expire at all; it is permanent.

The confusion arises from the apparent assumption that it's the Voting Rights Act alone which guarantees suffrage to minorities. In reality, all the Act does is keep in place a set of so-called "extraordinary remedies" meant to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment at state and local levels, where, in defiance of federal law, obstacles to the voting rights of black people were still in place in some parts of the country as of the early 1960s. These remedies, designed specifically to address problems that existed at the time, were never meant to be permanent, which is why the Voting Rights Act comes up for renewal every 25 years.

It's difficult to determine exactly where and when the rumor that African Americans' voting rights will expire in 2007 got started, though Internet discussions of the topic in 1997 made reference to the issue being raised on Tom Joyner's radio talk show. One Usenet posting dated January 21, 1997 is clearly a precursor of the text now circulating.

"I'd say we have gotten hundreds of calls on this over the past two years," South Carolina Representative James Clyburn of told reporters this week. "It's frustrating dealing with this hoax."

And I thought I was the only one who had days like that.


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Sources and further reading:

The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Fact sheet from U.S. Department of Justice


Current Hoaxes / Netlore
The Urban Legends Top 25

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