Resistance to voting remains

July 16, 2006

House members who spent all day Thursday trying to hollow out the Voting Rights Act ably demonstrated why what were once temporary provisions of the three-decade-old civil rights legislation are still so vital. The solid bipartisan majorities by which those attempts were rebuffed, and the overwhelming tally by which the House voted to extend law's protections for another 25 years, failed to obscure the ugly sentiments still lurking in some quarters.

Take the delegation from Georgia, for example. Many of its Republican members pleaded with the House to stop punishing their state for discriminatory acts committed by folks now long dead - a bid to lift a requirement that jurisdictions with troubled histories get federal approval before making any changes in voting laws.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, one of only 33 House members to vote against the final bill, bought this argument. "He believes that when a disease is cured you don't have to keep taking the same medicine," said spokeswoman Lisa Wright.

Yet Georgia remains among the hardest of hard cases, requiring repeated federal interventions in recent years to enforce voting rights, and is currently embroiled in a fight with federal courts over requiring voters to show photo identification.

"If any state needs continuation of the Voting Rights Act, it is Georgia," said Rep. David Scott, one of several black Democrats from Georgia who opposed their white colleagues.

Then there was the drive from lawmakers representing mostly districts in the interior of America to remove from the Voting Rights Act a 1975 requirement that ballots be printed in multiple languages in communities with large immigrant populations. Only American citizens vote, of course. But this gambit seemed a twofer aimed at playing to the fervor against illegal immigrants in some communities as well as undermining bipartisan support for extending the voter protections.

Hypocrisy was the order of the day, as even those trying to weaken or terminate the Voting Rights Act paid homage to the successes of this key achievement of the civil rights movement, which effectively opened the political process to blacks and other minorities in many communities. But for the political power of this landmark law, the hypocrites might not have been defeated.

Senate leaders should now move quickly to put their chamber's overwhelming stamp of approval on extending voter protections that, sadly, are still so necessary.

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