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Republicans cancel renewal of Voting Rights Act, for now

Thursday, June 22, 2006
Chicago Defender
by Laurie Kellman

WASHINGTON - Renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which eliminated many anti-black voting practices, suffered a setback Wednesday when House Republicans disagreed on whether to require bilingual ballots and federal oversight of Southern states.
The dissension in a closed caucus meeting grew so intense it forced Republican leaders to postpone indefinitely a scheduled vote on renewing the act.
It was the second time in just over a week that House GOP leaders stalled action on priorities – immigration overhaul was the other – on their election-year agenda.
On the voting rights bill, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and three other leaders only promised a vote on the renewal "as soon as possible." The uncertainty in the House led Senate schedulers to hold off on plan to advance an identical bill next week.
"Apparently, the leadership of the Republican Party cannot bring its own rank-and-file members into line to support the Voting Rights Act," said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who represents Selma and Birmingham, the heart of the Civil Rights movement.
"That ought to be a significant embarrassment as they fan around the country trying to skim off a few black votes in the next four months," Davis said.
House Republican leaders said the postponement reflects their effort to respond to dissenting GOP lawmakers. They noted that the temporary provisions of the act do not expire until 2007.
"We have time to address their concerns," Republican leaders said in a joint statement. "Therefore, the House Republican Leadership will offer members the time needed to evaluate the legislation."

Several Republicans, many from Southern states, complained at the meeting that the renewal unfairly singled out nine states for federal oversight, without according them credit for making strides against discriminatory voting practices now in their pasts.
Republican dissenters also wanted to chip away at a part of the act that requires ballots printed in several languages in districts with large populations of immigrants.
Also, they warned that the Supreme Court is set to rule by the middle of next week on whether a redistricting plan in Texas in 2003 disenfranchised Hispanic voters.
"The speaker's had a standing rule that nothing would be voted on unless there's a majority of the majority," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), who led the objections. "It was pretty clear at the meeting that the majority of the majority wasn't there."
Overwhelming bipartisan support for the renewal, from Hastert on down the leadership hierarchy, stems from the strides the original act has made toward stamping out discriminatory voting practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests. The act also gave the federal government tools to find and stop discrimination at the polls.
But a dozen House hearings have demonstrated that discrimination still exists, according to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) He and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, insisted that the measure be passed by the House without any changes.
Sensenbrenner says the hearings made clear that federal oversight still is needed in the nine states named in the bill: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. AP

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