Thursday, June 22, 2006

Voting Rights Act vote stopped

The political struggle over illegal immigration helped stop a US House vote on the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The move by many Republicans caught the GOP leadership, who publicly endorsed extension of the act, by surprise. Southern Republicans who believe the act has achieved its purpose were joined by fellow party members from other regions who balked at multilingual ballot requirements the extension requires:

But many Southerners feel the law has achieved its purpose and become more nuisance than necessity in several respects. They have aired those arguments for years, but yesterday they got a boost from Republicans scattered throughout the nation who are increasingly raising a different concern: They insist that immigrants learn and use English.

Of course any mention of stopping renewal of the act will attract a harsh debate. Here's a taste from a director of a civil rights group:

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said in a statement, "We are extremely disappointed that the House did not vote today to renew and restore the Voting Rights Act because a small band of miscreants, at the last moment, hijacked this bipartisan, bicameral bill."

This would be an explosive show capable of capping off any Independence Day celebration. I would like to see how the feds determine if voting complaints made in southern states merit continued federal puppeteering of the election process. Voting Rights Act advocates claim voting abuses have occurred. However, I haven't seen the evidence. The multilingual ballots may easily create an avalanche of cumbersome burdens for those conducting elections at the local level.

I say have the debate. In 1965, there can be no doubt that black voters in the South needed intervention in gaining the right to vote. There was little hope of gaining these rights from state and local institutions. In the passage of more than 40 years, the political landscape is certainly less a mine field for black southerners. They get elected to office and represent a key voting bloc in most elections. Abuses may well occur, but that's something that's happened for a variety reasons in elections throughout history.

While the Voting Rights Act achieved a noble purpose, it is still a federal law at heart. Once it accomplishes its original goal, it may well become a tool for faraway bureaucrats and politicians to foist unnecessary burdens onto local elections. For example, one reason the GOP leadership is willing to pass along the extension is the advantage it's given them in congressional and legislative redistriciting. Republican leaders will gladly create a couple of majority minority districts in return for whiter more GOP-friendly districts elsewhere in their respective states. Betsy Newmark has an example of this angle.

The Voting Rights Act shouldn't be treated differently than any other political issue. It's alright to disagree. If the debate continues, let's hope we can rise above the level of placing opponents of the extension in a "band of miscreants."

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