Thursday, July 13, 2006

Debate on today for Voting Rights Act extension

Today the US House is debating a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act. If you're reading in somewhat real time, you can tune in to C-Span on the tube or watch and listen here. As can be expected, the debate has been emotional at times.

It's important to understand that extension of the entire 1965 act is not up for debate. Provisions that eliminated literacy tests and poll taxes are untouchable. The debate centers around Section 5 of the act and three amendments proposed that would alter it. Section 5 requires certain counties' election practices to be under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Justice for another 25 years. The leadership of both parties and the Congressional Black Caucus support the extension of Section 5 without amendment.

Also, it needs to be known that Section 5 does not apply to all 50 states. Only 16 states fall under it. In the case of Gerogia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Arizona, almost all local jurisdictions would face the 25-year extension. States such as NC, Virginia and Florida only have specific counties covered.

Debate over Section 5 is not limited to a black vs white or left vs right dichotomy as this indicates:

"If Congress goes and passes the current version . . . as is, with a 25-year extension . . . then there is a significant danger that the measure is struck down," said Richard Hasen, a law professor at the Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles who describes himself as part of the Democratic Party's left wing.

"What I sense is that there are a number of people who are supporters of the act but who don't want to speak up for political reasons and say the act has to be updated, to say that 2006 is not the same as 1965," Hasen said. ". . . We still need the act but it needs to be adapted to deal with new realities."

Two of the amendments deal with applying Section 5 provisions to all states and the third deals with a provision that will require multilingual ballots in certain jurisdictions.

The charge for amendments comes from Charlie Norwood and Lynn Westmoreland, both Georgia Republicans. Much of their argument centers on the fact that some jurisdictions in Georgia and other states are under Section 5 for violations that occurred as far back as the 1960s. It does not address issues that have taken place as recently as 2000 and 2004 in areas not covered by Section 5.

I find myself agreeing with Hasen. It's time to focus on voting rights violations of the present. I also sympathize with Norwood and Westmoreland. It is not fair to place the albatross of past racial injustice around the necks of those who were not alive at the time. The only thing many of them are guilty of is being born in a certain state or county.

If nothing else, you can't accuse C-Span of being boring today. I think it's important that this issue is being discussed openly and passionately. That's much more preferable than breezing through this as the White House and the Congressional leadership of both parties wanted.


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