Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Data Danger in the Appointed Superintendent Debate

A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning.  Sometimes, a logical fallacy erupts as a debate tactic and at other times, it emerges innocently through a simple failure to properly connect the logical dots.  The argument in support of an appointed superintendent in Florida, while well-meaning for the most part contains logical fallacies that citizens should watch for.

Citizens are receiving flyers in their mail and some are seeing posts on web sites and on social media that associate Escambia County's standardized test score ranking with the fact that the county elects its superintendent rather than appoint him or her.  The not-so-subtle implication is that the ranking is due to the fact that the citizens of Escambia County elect their superintendent rather than leave it to three school board members to appoint them.

Of course, they cite the most dramatic data that shows the school district in its worst light with respect to the rest of the state, then they arrive at the conclusion that since many school districts of a size similar to Escambia have higher test scores and also have appointed superintendents, there must be a connection.

However, that false cause-and-effect connection ignores the studies that have established that whether a superintendent is elected or appointed is not a predictor of student or district performance or success.

Making that flawed causal connection is the logical fallacy, just as it would be a logical fallacy for those on the other side of the debate to claim that since 60% of Florida's "A" school districts have elected superintendents, having an elected superintendent is the superior approach.

Since we can't conclude much from that data that establishes a causal linkage to how we select our superintendent, we wonder if there is data that we can use, data that is accurate and relevant?

Maybe we can consider trend data.  Is it possible and is it relevant to look at ALL school districts that have elected superintendents and compare their performance trends to ALL school districts that have appointed superintendents?  Can we learn anything from examining "right direction/wrong direction," trend data?  Maybe so.

As we've seen from Florida Department of Education (FDOE) data, 60% of Florida's "A" school districts are led by elected superintendents.  That leaves 40% of "A" school districts being led by appointed superintendents.  If the appointed superintendent format was the superior way to select a superintendent, it seems that trends would favor that approach.

However, that 40% figure for school districts that are led by appointed superintendents is DOWN from where it was just 8 years ago.  In 2010, 55% of Florida's 26 "A" school districts had APPOINTED superintendents.  In 2015, that percentage fell to 48% of Florida's 21 "A" school districts.  Then, in 2018, their share dropped again to 40% of Florida's 20 "A" school districts.

So, as the percentage of "A" school districts that have APPOINTED superintendents has trended downward over the past 8 years, the percentage of school districts that have ELECTED superintendents has trended upward by the same amount.

Then, when we look at average school district grades on a 5-point grade scale ("A" = 5; "F" = 1), we see that the average school district grade in 2018 for school districts that have ELECTED superintendents is 4.0.  The average school district grade for school districts that have APPOINTED superintendents is 4.1.  One-tenth of a point separates the two approaches to selecting a superintendent!

Looking further, the trend that we saw with "A" school districts follows school district grade averages.

In 2010, the average grade for all school districts that APPOINT their superintendent was 4.6, but in 2015 the average grade slipped to 4.3, then it fell again to 4.1 in 2018.  On the other hand, the average grade for all school districts that ELECT their superintendent rose from 3.9 in 2010 and 2015 to 4.0 in 2018.

By the way, Escambia is a "B" school district.  The school district ranks near the bottom of the state's "B" schools, but it's still a "B" school district.  We want our school district to do better, for sure.  We want it to be an "A" district, but we have a district that has been working hard and improving over the past decade or so.  As we've seen, that progress is important.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

6 BIG Reasons to Vote NO on an Appointed Superintendent

Before Escambia County citizens surrender their authority and right to choose their superintendent to three school board members (the majority of a five-member school board), they must know the facts behind the choice.

1.  No Student Performance Benefit

Whether a superintendent is hired by the citizens through an election or hired by the school board through an appointment, neither by itself is a predictor of student success or school district performance as illustrated by 2017-18 Florida Department of Education (FDOE) data that shows that 60% of Florida’s top 20 school districts – all of them “A” school districts – and 52% of the school districts that have a graduation rate of 80% or higher all have elected superintendents.

2.  Education Level of Superintendents Not a Factor

The fact that 70% of Florida’s “A” school districts and 76% of Florida’s “B” school districts (including Escambia County) are led by superintendents who do not hold doctorates in education proves that the data does not support the suggestion that superintendents who hold EdD degrees produce better results.

3.  Preserve Checks and Balances

The Escambia County School District currently has a leadership structure that includes an elected executive (the superintendent) and an elected legislative body (the school board) which has successfully leveraged a system of checks and balances to protect Escambia citizens from abuse and corruption.  An elected superintendent is accountable to the same people that the elected school board is accountable to:  the people of Escambia County.  With a board-appointed superintendent there would be NO checks and balances because the superintendent would be controlled by the school board, not counter-balanced by it.

4.  Keep Politics Out of Our Schools

Assertions that campaign contributions make the superintendent “beholden to wealthy contributors instead of focusing on our teachers and students” ignores the fact that an elected superintendent is no more susceptible to donor influence than elected school board members.

Furthermore, citizens should be aware that having an appointed superintendent can actually be MORE political than having an elected superintendent.  School board members can intimidate, threaten, and harbor ill will toward superintendents who don’t champion or accommodate their personal causes, issues, and wants.  That political pressure can easily find its way into schools through principals and into departments through department heads who can be left in the difficult position of reconciling competing political interests and directives at the expense of otherwise consistent, apolitical district-wide practices.

Here in Escambia County, we have seen through the experiences of County government that having appointed executives is not always the most effective, most orderly, and least political approach.  The county went through 7 county administrators (including interim administrators) between 1998 and 2012, including 4 between 2008 and 2012.

Although the Escambia County School Board is stable today, many Escambia citizens remember that the Escambia County School Board itself has had its share of embarrassment when power plays, internal politics, and drama among school board members made headlines.

5.  Appointed Superintendents are Expensive

The salaries of appointed superintendents in Florida are generally significantly higher than the salaries of their elected counterparts.  In fact, the average base salary for appointed superintendents in 2017-18 was nearly $100,000 more than for their elected peers.  In school districts that are already struggling to make budgets meet their needs, one must ask whether paying a lot of money to an appointed superintendent is worth the cost, particularly in view of the fact that there is no evidence that appointing a superintendent improves school district performance.  Taxpayers should be concerned that having a board-appointed superintendent would likely cost them at least $1 million more in superintendent salary over the next ten years.

6.  Citizens Should Be a Part of School District Solutions

So-called “low performing” and “failing” schools do not owe their outcomes exclusively to the leadership of the school district and to the principals and teachers at individual schools. 

Teachers and administrators absolutely must be accountable, but the term “failing schools” does not sufficiently describe what is happening in our most challenging schools.  Rather than simply saying that there is a problem with “failing schools,” a more apt characterization would acknowledge the “failing situations” that are exposed in our schools, not caused by them.  Those failing situations impact standardized test scores which determine school and district grades.  The failing situations are the core problem; they are what we should be solving.

Certainly, the citizens of Escambia County must be a part of the solution, not apart from it.  To that end, they should vote “NO” on the costly ballot item that would require them to surrender to three members of the school board their right and authority to choose their district superintendent.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Who Was Richard B. Russell, Namesake of the Russell Senate Office Building?

With the recent passing of Senator John McCain, there has been much discussion of renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain. As the public becomes more familiar with the current namesake of the building, the question some might raise is why it has taken so long to re-name it for someone else.

Senator Richard B. Russell was a democrat United States Senator from the state of Georgia and President Pro Tempore of the Senate when he died in office at the age of 73. He served in the Senate for more than half his life (38 years) and before that, he served as Governor of Georgia and as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. He spent 50 of his 73 years in politics.

What makes the naming of the Russell Building after Senator Russell in 1972 noteworthy is his place in the history of United States civil rights and the timing of the naming of the building relative to what was generally viewed as the end of an ugly chapter in American history seven years earlier in 1965.

The 100 years leading to 1965 was plagued by rampant institutional racism and segregation, but Senator Russell stood squarely opposed to any change of course throughout his political career.

In 1956, Senator Russell co-authored the "Declaration of Constitutional Principles" (also known as the "Southern Manifesto") in opposition to racial integration in public places. The manifesto, signed by 101 mostly-southern congressmen (99 democrats and 2 republicans), was written in response to the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision which took much of the starch out of the Court's 1896 Plessy v Ferguson decision which legitimized the separate but equal segregationist doctrine.

A year later, Russell opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 which was advocated by President Eisenhower and created the six-member Commission on Civil Rights and established the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. It also authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek court injunctions against the deprivation and obstruction of voting rights by state officials.

Three years later, the Congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1960 which expanded the enforcement powers of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and introduced criminal penalties for obstructing the implementation of federal court orders. It also required voting and registration records for federal elections to be preserved. Senator Russell voted against this act as well.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and schools, created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to monitor employment discrimination in public and private sectors, and provided additional capacities to enforce voting rights. Of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senator Russell said, "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states." The "we" to which Senator Russell was referring was a bloc of 18 Southern senators (17 democrats and 1 republican) who filibustered the bill in the Senate for 60 days in an attempt to block the legislation through Senate rules.

Nonetheless, the bill which had been envisioned by President Kennedy and was carried on in his honor by President Johnson, prevailed in the Senate and was subsequently signed into law by Johnson. In response, Russell led a southern boycott of the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the last of the series of civil rights laws that had been approved over a span of eight years between 1957 and 1965. These laws were essentially designed to finally close loopholes and enforce the 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments which provided citizenship and voting rights for native-born and naturalized African-Americans a century before.

Senator Russell voted against all four of those key acts of Congress.

Russell was selected to serve as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and President pro temporare of the Senate in 1969, he died in 1971, and the Senate Office Building was named for him in 1972.

So, at a time when there is an indiscriminate rush to topple confederate statues and monuments whether they were associated with the South's Jim Crow past or not, here we have a federal government building that is named for a dedicated segregationist who did everything he could throughout his lengthy career in public office to defeat the civil rights laws that were intended to reverse 100 years of institutional racism, even after slavery had been abolished by the 13th Amendment.

Some have explained Russell's actions as simply a matter of him being a product of his environment and times. History is replete with examples where that is true of others, but in this case, there was a century of legal authority that Russell and others before him dedicated their lives to defying. If Russell were merely a man - a regular citizen - in that time and place, that would be one thing, albeit still racist. However, Russell spent his adult life as the leader of a movement and as a leader and mentor in the United States Senate; in that context, he had a duty to rise above his time and place and lead righteously.

The decision to name the Russell Senate Office Building after Senator McCain is a no-brainer.  It should have never been named for Russell in the first place.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

So Much Accomplished; So Much Left To Do

While there remains a good deal of work to do with respect to civil rights in the United States, it's a mistake to ignore the progress the country has made on that front over the past 150 years. Beginning with the anti-slavery momentum that mounted before the Civil War, our history has been marked with advances and set-backs in Congress, in local laws, and even in the Supreme Court, but on the whole we’ve seen tremendous improvements.

We have come a long way from days of the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866 when local laws were written to impose draconian restrictions on recently liberated slaves, and essentially reimposed slavery but under different parameters. Gone are the Jim Crow laws that created a separate but equal landscape in the South and a Supreme Court decision in Plessy v Ferguson that ruled that those laws didn't violate the Constitution. Although Plessy v Ferguson has never been explicitly overturned by the Court, the High Court's Brown v Education decision 60 years later held that the separate but equal doctrine was not Constitutional when applied to schools, and that took a lot of the starch out of the separate but equal doctrine.

After years of blatant racism and discrimination after Reconstruction, sometimes implicitly and at other times explicitly supported in laws and by state courts, the United States entered what has been referred to as "The Second Reconstruction Era" that ended with a flurry of civil rights laws passed by Congress between 1957 and 1965, culminating with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that effectively shut down the loopholes and exploitation that had occurred since the Civil War.

A study of the acts of Congress over the 100 tumultuous years between the passage of the 13th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, their purposes, and the evolving lines of partisanship in Congressional voting shows the how the heart of the nation matured in a very meaningful way. The change in the Democratic Party over those years is particularly noteworthy. After providing minimal support for the 13th Amendment in 1864, Democrat congressmen and senators failed to contribute a single vote for civil rights legislation for nearly another 100 years until 1957, a stretch that included seven bills that became law without their votes in support of them. That included votes on the 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments that provided citizenship for American-born African-Americans and provided them the right to vote.

The true sense of the people, however, is apparent in the public support for the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments that required the support of the citizens or their representatives in 3/4 of the States for inclusion in the U. S. Constitution.

Again, there is still much work to do, but we shouldn't allow anyone to convince us that there has not been substantive and extraordinary improvement on the civil rights front in this country. To see it any other way is to ignore the reality of history which has included quite a lot of hardship, sacrifice, and courage.



13th Amendment
Abolished slavery and involuntary servtitude, except as punishment for a crime.

House of Representatives - June 15, 1864
95 yea, 66 nay, 21 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - failed)
Republicans 77 yea, 1 nay, 5 not voting
Democrats 4 yea, 59 nay, 9 not voting
Others 14 yea, 6 nay, 7 not voting

Senate April 8, 1864
38 yea, 6 nay, 5 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 34 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting
Democrats 3 yea, 6 nay, 3 not voting
Others 1 yea, 0 nay, 2 not voting

House of Representatives January 31, 1865
119 yea, 56 nay, 8 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 84 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting
Democrats 14 yea, 50 nay, 8 not voting
Others 21 yea, 6 nay, 0 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1866
Guaranteed the rights of all citizens to make and enforce contracts and to purchase, sell, or lease property. Passed by the 39th Congress (1865-1867) as S.R. 61. (The bill also guaranteed equal benefits and access to the law which was aimed at the Black Codes passed by many post-war states.)

House of Representatives March 13, 1866
111 yea, 38 nay, 34 not voting
Republicans 106 yea, 1 nay, 25 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 32 nay, 8 not voting
Other 5 yea, 5 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 2, 1866 (Vote to amend SR61 to deny blacks the right to vote)
7 yea, 39 nay, 4 not voting
Republicans 1 yea, 35 nay, 1 not voting
Democrats 6 yea, 4 nay, 2 not voting
Other 0 yea, 0 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 2, 1866
33 yea, 12 nay, 5 not voting
Republicans 33 yea, 2 nay, 2 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 10 nay, 2 not voting
Other 0 yea, 0 nay, 1 not voting

This bill was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, but his veto was overridden in the House and Senate and became law.

Vote to override President Johnson's veto of SR61

House of Representatives April 9, 1866
122 yea, 41 nay, 21 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 117 yea, 2 nay, 15 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 33 nay, 6 not voting
Other 5 yea, 6 nay

Senate April 6, 1866
33 yea, 15 nay, 1 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 32 yea, 4 nay, 1 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 11 nay, 0 not voting
Other 1 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting

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14th Amendment
Declared that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and that no state may deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or deny any person equal protection of the laws.

House of Representatives June 13, 1866
137 yea, 37 nay, 9 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 127 yea, 0 nay, 6 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 37 nay, 2 not voting
Other 10 yea, 0 nay, 1 not voting

Senate June 8, 1866
33 yea, 11 nay, 5 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 32 yea, 3 nay, 2 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 8 nay, 3 not voting
Other 1 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting

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15th Amendment
Forbade any state to deprive a citizen of his vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

House of Representatives February 25, 1869
141 yea, 44 nay, 35 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 141 yea, 3 nay, 27 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 39 nay, 7 not voting
Other 2 yea, 2 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 26, 1869
39 yea, 13 nay, 14 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 39 yea, 4 nay, 13 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 9 nay, 1 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1870 (also known as Enforcement Act of 1870 or First Ku Klux Klan Act)
Prohibited discrimination in voter registration on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Established penalties for interfering with a person’s right to vote. Gave federal courts the power to enforce the act and to employ the use of federal marshals and the army to uphold it.

House of Representatives May 16, 1870
133 yea, 58 nay, 39 not voting
Republicans 132 yea, 1 nay, 30 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 54 nay, 8 not voting
Other 1 yea, 3 nay, 1 not voting

Senate May 16, 1870
48 yea, 11 nay, 13 not voting
Republicans 45 yea, 1 nay, 10 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 10 nay, 1 not voting
Other 3 yea, 0 nay, 2 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also known as Second Ku Klux Klan Act)
Placed all elections in both the North and South under federal control. Allowed for the appointment of election supervisors by federal circuit judges. Authorized U.S. Marshals to employ deputies to maintain order at polling places.

House of Representatives February 15, 1871
144 yea, 64 nay, 32 not voting
Republicans 143 yea, 3 nay, 22 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 58 nay, 9 not voting
Other 1 yea, 3 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 25, 1871
39 yea, 10 nay, 24 not voting
Republicans 38 yea, 1 nay, 16 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 7 nay, 3 not voting
Other 1 yea, 2 nay, 5 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also known as Third Ku Klux Klan Act)
Enforced the 14th Amendment by guaranteeing all citizens of the United States the rights afforded by the Constitution and provided legal protection under the law.

House of Representatives April 19, 1871
93 yea, 74 nay, 63 not voting
Republicans 92 yea, 0 nay, 36 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 73 nay, 25 not voting
Other 1 yea, 1 nay, 2 not voting

Senate April 19, 1871
36 yea, 13 nay, 20 not voting
Republicans 35 yea, 2 nay, 13 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 11 nay, 3 not voting
Other 1 yea, 0 nay, 4 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1875
Barred discrimination in public accommodations and on public conveyances on land and water. Prohibited exclusion of African Americans from jury duty.

House of Representatives February 4, 1875
162 yea, 100 nay, 27 not voting
Republicans 161 yea, 12 nay, 21 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 84 nay, 6 not voting
Others 1 yea, 4 nay, 0 not voting

Senate February 27, 1875
38 yea, 26 nay, 9 not voting
Republicans 38 yea, 4 nay, 7 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 18 nay, 1 not voting
Others 0 yea, 4 nay, 1 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1957
Created the six-member Commission on Civil Rights and established the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. Authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek court injunctions against deprivation and obstruction of voting rights by state officials.

House of Representatives February 4, 1875
286 yea, 126 nay, 9 present, 13 not voting
Republicans 167 yea, 19 nay, 5 present, 8 not voting
Democrats 119 yea, 107 nay, 4 present, 5 not voting

Senate August 7, 1957
72 yea, 18 nay, 1 present, 4 not voting
Republicans 43 yea, 0 nay, 1 present, 2 not voting
Democrats 29 yea, 18 nay, 0 present, 2 not voting

Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond filibustered the bill for more than 24 hours in an attempt to kill the bill. The filibuster failed.

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Civil Rights Act of 1960
Expanded the enforcement powers of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and introduced criminal penalties for obstructing the implementation of federal court orders. Extended the Civil Rights Commission for two years. Required that voting and registration records for federal elections be preserved.

House of Representatives April 21, 1960
288 yea, 95 nay, 25 present, 22 not voting
Republicans 123 yea, 12 nay, 12 present, 4 not voting
Democrats 165 yea, 82 nay, 13 present, 18 not voting
Others 0 yea, 1 nay, 0 present, 0 not voting

Senate April 8, 1960
71 yea, 18 nay, 11 not voting
Republicans 29 yea, 0 nay, 6 not voting
Democrats 42 yea, 18 nay, 5 not voting

In a special February 1959 message to Congress on the subject of civil rights, President Eisenhower supported civil rights legislation and proposed seven actions to protect the civil rights of Americans:

  • strengthen the law to confront the use or threats of force regarding school desegregation cases
  • give the FBI more investigative authority in the case of crimes involving the destruction or attempted destruction of schools or churches
  • give the Attorney General power to inspect Federal election records and to preserve those records as necessary for inspection
  • provide a temporary program of financial and technical aid to adjust to school desegregation decisions
  • temporarily authorize a provision for the education of children of members of the Armed Forces when State-administered public schools have been closed because of desegregation decisions or orders
  • consider establishing a statutory Commission on Equal Job Opportunity under Government Contracts
  • extend the life of the Civil Rights Commission for an additional two years
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Civil Rights Act of 1964
Prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and schools. Outlawed discrimination in federally funded projects. Created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to monitor employment discrimination in public and private sectors. Provided additional capacities to enforce voting rights. Extended the Civil Rights Commission for four years.

House of Representatives February 10, 1964
290 yea, 130 nay, 5 present, 6 not voting
Republicans 138 yea, 34 nay, 1 present, 4 not voting
Democrats 152 yea, 96 nay, 4 present, 2 not voting

Senate June 19, 1964
73 yea, 21 nay
Republicans 26 yea, 6 nay
Democrats 46 yea, 21 nay

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supported by President Kennedy, then by President Johnson. When the bill came before the full Senate for debate on March 30, 1964, Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) led a "Southern Bloc," consisting of 18 southern Democratic Senators and one Republican Senator and launched a filibuster to prevent the bill's passage. Russell said, "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states." The filibuster lasted for 60 days. (Incidently, the Russell Senate Office Building which has been proposed for renaming for John McCain was named for the leader of the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senator Richard Russell.)

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Voting Rights Act of 1965
Suspended the use of literacy tests and voter disqualification devices for five years. Authorized the use of federal examiners to supervise voter registration in states that used tests or in which less than half the voting-eligible residents registered or voted. Directed the U.S. Attorney General to institute proceedings against use of poll taxes. Provided criminal penalties for individuals who violated the act.

House of Representatives August 3, 1965
328 yea, 74 nay, 31 not voting
Republicans 110 yea, 20 nay, 10 not voting
Democrats 218 yea, 54 nay, 21 not voting

Senate August 4, 1965
79 yea, 18 nay, 3 not voting
Republicans 30 yea, 1 nay, 1 not voting
Democrats 49 yea, 16 nay, 2 not voting