Group of Republicans stalls renewal of Voting Rights Act

| Thu Jun. 22, 2006 8:20 PM EDT

A spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert says that the Republican leadership "is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible."

Maybe not. Today, just as the vote to renew the Voting Rights Act was about to take place, some members of the Republican Party met behind closed doors and decided to stall the vote. Their reason? That some of the requirements of the act were no longer relevant to key southern states that historically have tried to prevent African Americans from voting. Two Congressmen from Georgia, Lynn Westmoreland and Jack Kingston, led the movement to delay the vote, and they were joined by 78 other Republicans.

Westmoreland's and Kingston's objection to renewing the act as is was that it requires federal approval for everything. "If you move a polling place from the Baptist church to the Methodist church, you've got to go through the Justice Department," Kingston said. Speaking before Congress, Westmoreland raved about hearing complaints of discrimination from someone "whose brother-in-law told him the wrong polling place."

The Voting Rights Act outlawed poll taxes and literacy tests, but many believe that the Justice Department's approval of picture ID requirements by some states, including Georgia, amount to the same kind of discrimination because a fee is charged for the ID if the voter does not already have a driver's license. Indeed, a federal judge fouind the Georgia law unconstitutional

Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said a bipartisan commission found evidence of recent voting-rights violations in Georgia, Texas and several other states. There is also ample evidence that African American voters were intimidated by Republican operatives in the 2000 Florida presidential election and the 2004 Ohio presidential election.

Steve King, a Congressman from Iowa, objected to renewing the act as is because of its requirement that ballots be printed in languages other than English.

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