- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

The House yesterday extended the 1965 Voting Rights Act for 25 years, defeating several amendments deemed harmful to the bill by Republican and Democrat leaders.

One amendment wanted to change the way some states and counties obtain clearance from federal authorities before altering electoral practices. Another sought to increase the responsibilities of the Justice Department by annually reviewing and notifying jurisdictions eligible to be removed from the clearance requirement.

The amendments were introduced by Georgia Republican Reps. Charlie Norwood and Lynn Westmoreland, respectively.

“A 25-year veteran of the Justice Department voting division testified that the Westmoreland amendment would require three times the staff currently there to do the work … and there is no money allocated to this amendment,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat.

Two other amendments — one introduced by Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, to eliminate state requirements to print ballots in a foreign language if those not proficient in English make up at least 7.5 percent of the electorate, and the other introduced by Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, to limit the act’s reauthorization to nine years — also were rejected.

Republican leaders, fearing the passage of the amendments would weaken the bill, tried unsuccessfully to keep them from coming to the House floor.

The Bush administration also opposed amending the bill, which was renewed on a 390-33 vote, saying it supported “the legislative intent of [the Voting Rights Act] to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Georgia v. Ashcroft and its 2000 decision in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board.”

Those two decisions allowed Southern states to draw districts to purposely isolate minority voters and dilute their overall voting strength as long as it did not keep them from electing candidates of their choice.

“The hearings clearly showed that the creativity of the human mind is unlimited when it comes to devising voting laws with the intended goal of denying minorities the right to vote, which is why we need this bill reauthorized for the next 25 years as is,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who led the debate in opposition to the amendments.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said her caucus would reject the bill if any of the amendments passed.

Consideration of the Voting Rights Act was postponed last month when a host of Republicans, mostly from Southern states, said they would reject the bill if their amendments were not considered.

The bill now goes before the Senate and is expected to pass by month’s end in the same form the House passed.

“We have two weeks left in complete action, and we are moving ahead from today at full speed. I expect this bill to be voted on in the committee by July 20, next Wednesday,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Specter said no amendments have been offered in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, has not said when he will bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

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