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After Challenges, House Approves Renewal of Voting Act

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/14/washington/14rights.html?_r=1&oref=slogin After Challenges, House Approves Renewal of Voting Act By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 14, 2006
      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/14/washington/14rights.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

      After Challenges, House Approves Renewal of Voting Act

      By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
      Published: July 14, 2006

      WASHINGTON, July 13 — The House voted overwhelmingly
      on Thursday to renew expiring provisions of the Voting
      Rights Act after supporters of it defeated challenges
      mounted by conservative opponents.

      The 390-to-33 vote on the landmark civil rights act
      capped a day of impassioned debate that heightened the
      politically charged atmosphere surrounding race and
      ethnicity, already aggravated by the recent fight in
      Congress over immigration.

      In urging adoption of the act, Representative John
      Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, recalled marching on
      Bloody Sunday, a turning point in the movement for
      black voting rights in 1965, when the police in Selma,
      Ala., beat 600 civil rights demonstrators.

      “I gave blood,” Mr. Lewis said, his voice rising, as
      he stood alongside photographs of the clash. “Some of
      my colleagues gave their very lives.”

      “Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a
      distance,” he added. “The sad truth is, discrimination
      still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting
      Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.”

      For weeks, the outcome of the battle to extend the act
      had been in doubt. Republican leaders had planned a
      vote in June. But they abruptly canceled it after
      conservative lawmakers objected to several provisions
      of the act, including one that requires the Justice
      Department to review any proposed changes to voting
      procedures in states covered by the law, most of them
      in the South. They said the provisions were
      unnecessary.

      The rebellion was an embarrassment for the Republican
      leadership. In early May, House and Senate leaders of
      both parties assembled on the steps of the Capitol to
      pledge their support for the act and celebrate what
      they described as its imminent approval. President
      Bush had also thrown his support behind it.

      To mollify those conservatives, House leaders agreed
      to allow them to offer four amendments on Thursday,
      including one that would have required the Justice
      Department to demonstrate why the voting procedures in
      certain states should still be under federal
      oversight.

      Representative Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia,
      argued that his state, for one, had made great strides
      in voting rights for minorities. “A lot has changed in
      40-plus years,” Mr. Gingrey said. “We should have a
      law that fits the world in 2006.”

      But in the end, Republicans joined with Democrats to
      defeat the amendments, allowing both parties to cast
      themselves as champions of minority voters.

      “This legislation proves our unbending commitment to
      voting rights,” said Representative F. James
      Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin and
      chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

      The focus now shifts to the Senate, where the
      Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the Voting
      Rights Act next week.

      Senate Democrats urged quick passage.

      “For two months, we have wasted precious time as the
      Republican leadership played to its conservative
      base,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the
      Democratic leader. “There are only 21 legislative days
      left in this Congress, and the time to act is now.”‘

      President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights
      Act into law in August 1965 after a string of violence
      in Southern states surrounding efforts to ensure that
      blacks were afforded full rights to vote.

      The law instituted a nationwide prohibition against
      voting discrimination based on race, eliminated poll
      taxes and literacy tests and put added safeguards in
      regions where discrimination had been especially
      pronounced.

      Those included the requirement for the Justice
      Department to review any proposed changes to voting
      procedures to determine whether they would be
      discriminatory. That “preclearance” requirement would
      be retained for the nine states entirely covered by
      the law, most of them in the South, and parts of seven
      others.

      While critics of that requirement say it is now
      outdated, supporters of the act said the history of
      discrimination in those particular states justified
      their status. Beyond that, they argued that leaders
      who believed their states or localities should be
      exempt from the requirements could apply to “bail out”
      through a federal review.

      On the floor Thursday, many Democrats, as well as
      Republicans, denounced the amendments offered by
      conservatives as an effort to derail renewal of the
      act. Democrats had warned from the start that they
      would vote against the act if any of the amendments
      were tacked on to it.

      “Their goal has been one thing and one thing only: to
      kill the Voting Rights Act,” said Representative David
      Scott, Democrat of Georgia.

      Another provision of the act that drew fire from
      conservatives requires bilingual ballots in political
      jurisdictions with a high number of citizens who have
      difficulty with English. Representative Steve King,
      Republican of Iowa, offered an amendment that would
      have eliminated it.

      Mr. King and his supporters argued that naturalized
      citizens should have had to prove English proficiency
      as part of their citizenship test. In the end the
      amendment, which would have allowed local voting
      officials to provide language assistance at the polls,
      was defeated 238 to 185.

      “This is multiculturalism at its worst,”
      Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of
      California, said, referring to bilingual ballots.
      “When we come from various ethnic groups and races,
      what unites us? It’s our language, the English
      language. We’re hurting America by making it easier
      for people not to learn English.”
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