Bravo for those who are delaying the renewal of parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which were originally intended to expire in 1970. Why do I say this? Because they discriminate against a few states and localities.
House Republican leaders on Wednesday postponed a vote on renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act after GOP lawmakers complained it unfairly singles out nine Southern states for federal oversight, according to their joint statement.
"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."
It was unclear whether the legislation would come up this year. The temporary provisions don't expire until 2007, but leaders of both parties had hoped to pass the act and use it to further their prospects in the fall's midterm elections.
The statement said the GOP leaders are committed to renewing the law "as soon as possible."
There are two special areas of concern among those who question the blind renewal of the four-decade old provisions -- pre-clearance requirements for election changes in nine states, and non-English ballots.
The most important element appears to be the pre-clearance question.
Several Republicans, led by [Rep. Lynn] Westmoreland, had worked to allow an amendment that would ease a requirement that nine states win permission from the Justice Department or a federal judge to change their voting rules.
The amendment's backers say the requirement unfairly singles out and holds accountable nine states that practiced racist voting policies decades ago, based on 1964 voter turnout data: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Westmoreland says the formula for deciding which states are subject to such "pre-clearance" should be updated every four years and be based on voter turnout in the most recent three elections.
"The pre-clearance portions of the Voting Rights Act should apply to all states, or no states," Westmoreland said. "Singling out certain states for special scrutiny no longer makes sense."
No one disputes that there were voting problems in these states in 1964. The historical record is clear. But the very Congress that passed this law in 1965 did so with a sunset provision for pre-clearance that eliminated it in 1970. The provision was allowed to lapse by Jimmy Carter and a Democrat-controlled Congress in 1980, only to be revived under the GOP two years later. But the time has come to do one of two things -- either expand the scope of the pre-clearance provision to include all 50 states or eliminate it completely as the law's authors intended. Rep. Westmoreland's proposal is, if anything, a weak fall-back position -- though it would at least end the use of data which, when the provision is next up for renewal, will be 68 years old. After all, as matters no stand, a change in election law that would be beyond question in Massachusetts could be treated as a violation of the Voting Rights Act in Texas.
As for the language requirements, those who fail to become proficient in English have chosen to exclude themselves from the civic life of this country. Surveys have shown that most Americans do not support providing ballots in languages other than English. The renewal bill, on the other hand, would continue the mandate.
The other big issue centered on requirements that certain jurisdictions offer bilingual ballots and language assistance to citizens whose English lags. But Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King and other lawmakers who oppose the bilingual rules were not going to have a chance to offer amendments.
King said in a statement it was irresponsible to "institutionalize multilingual voting for the next 25 years." He said bilingual voting, which was not part of the original voting rights bill but was added a decade later, drives "a wedge between cultures."
In other words, the House Leadership was out to silence those who would dissent on this provision that also helps illegal aliens vote illegally. While I do not find this provision to be nearly so odious as the pre-clearance provision, I would prefer to see it eliminated after having experienced the wasted time, money and manpower that goes into providing assistance to a mere handful of voters in most polling places during my years as an election judge (I must have Vietnamese material in my precinct, but have only had one person need it in the last five years -- an have had fewer than 10 voters need my Spanish-language clerk in that time).
Oh, and by the way -- the major case currently underway regarding language issues regards practices in Boston.
Now please realize that the failure to renew these provisions does not repeal anyone's right to vote. it does not even result in the elimination of the Voting Rights Act -- it simply allows the end of a couple of provisions that the law's authors never intended to be in force this long.