- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Congress appears poised to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act, in some form or another, for an additional 25 years, said the chairman of a House subcommittee holding hearings on the legislation’s renewal.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Constitution subcommittee, was bolstered by comments from Justice Department officials that President Bush would support it, regardless of any changes to “strengthen the act.”

“I think it is more likely than not, and it is good to see, what seems so rare now, that we are working in a strong bipartisan nature,” Mr. Chabot said.

The hearing yesterday focused on the most contentious part of the act — Section 5, which requires some states and counties to clear any changes in their voting procedures with either the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Bradley J. Schlozman, assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, said Section 5 has been “extremely successful” both in impeding restrictions to the franchise and as a deterrent to states that would seek to limit the right to vote of minorities.

“The president said he would support any necessary changes to strengthen the act,” he said.

The congressional hearings coincide with a recent rejection by a federal judge of a Georgia voter-identification change that would limit the types of documents voters can use to identify themselves at the polls from 13 to six.

The Georgia law was cleared by the Justice Department in August, but U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy, in Georgia, temporarily barred its use, ruling that the ID requirement “imposes a poll tax” and would most likely “prevent Georgia’s elderly, poor and African-American voters from voting.”

Most of the witnesses agreed that Section 5 should be renewed and has not outlived its usefulness.

However, Edward J. Blum of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative public-policy research group, said, “The law has fulfilled its purpose and is now creating more mischief than good.”

He cited a recent AEI study on voting participation in arguing that the rates of minority participation and the success of minority candidates indicates that the covered jurisdictions no longer struggle against patterns of discrimination and that minority candidates are generally elected by a racial cross-section of voters.

That analysis was challenged by Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican, who pressed Mr. Blum that he could “not possibly believe” in the veracity of his statement.

“If we go by that logic, that’s like saying the fact that we’ve had meat inspectors for 90 years and significantly reduced meat poisoning, we should do away with meat inspectors,” Mr. Feeney said.

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