Several months ago in a speech, I said that voting was the most sacred right of free men and women. I pledged that as long as I am in a position to uphold the Constitution, no barrier would ever come between a secret ballot and the citizen's right to east one. Today I am reaffirming that commitment.
For this Nation to remain true to its principles, we cannot allow any American's vote to be denied, diluted, or defiled. The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.
To protect all our citizens, I believe the Voting Rights Act should and must be extended. It should be extended for 10 years—either through a direct extension of the act or through a modified version of the new bill recently passed by the House of Representatives. At the same time, the bilingual ballot provision currently in the law should be extended so that it is concurrent with the other special provisions of the act.
As a matter of fairness, I believe that States and localities which have respected the right to vote and have fully complied with the act should be afforded an opportunity to "bail-out" from the special provisions of the act. Toward that end, I will support amendments which incorporate reasonable "bail-out" provisions for States and other political subdivisions.
Further, I believe that the act should retain the "intent" test under existing law, rather than changing to a new and untested "effects" standard.
There are aspects of this law, then, over which reasonable men may wish to engage in further dialog in coming weeks. As this dialog goes forward, however, let us do so in a spirit of full and total commitment to the basic rights of every citizen.
The Voting Rights Act is important to the sense of trust many Americans place in their government's commitment to equal rights. Every American must know he or she can count on an equal chance and an equal vote. The decision we are announcing today benefits all of our citizens by making our democracy stronger and more available to everyone.