Thursday, July 13, 2006

House backs Voting Rights Act extension

The Boston Globe

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a 25-year extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which would preserve for another generation a law that opened voting booths to minorities.

Often described as the crown jewel of the civil rights era, the Voting Rights Act outlawed poll taxes, literacy tests and other obstacles that had prevented African Americans and other minorities from exercising their right to vote.

Controversy centered on two issues -- extra scrutiny for mostly southern states with a legacy of voting discrimination against minorities and a requirement to provide bilingual ballots to citizens with poor English.

Amendments that would have softened or eliminated those sections were easily defeated.

Virginia Democrat Robert Scott said there was a good reason certain states and counties still need advance clearance from the Justice Department to make changes in electoral practices.

"They got covered the old-fashioned way -- they earned it," Scott said.

Many black and Hispanic lawmakers described the changes they have witnessed in their own lives since its passage.

Some recalled their parents struggling with literacy tests -- such as reciting by memory the names of all U.S. presidents in chronological order -- designed to keep blacks away from the ballot box.

No kudos to the House. All they did was their job. For once.

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