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July 10, 2005
Sensenbrenner To Push Voting-Rights Renewal Legislation

Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner has told the NAACP that he intends on shepherding the renewal of expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act, a key issue for the NAACP and other minority groups. The GOP would like to use that effort to bolster its standing with these traditionally Democratic voters, as part of RNC chair Ken Mehlman's outreach efforts:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) plans to announce today at the NAACP's annual convention that he will work to extend portions of the Voting Rights Act that are scheduled to expire in 2007, congressional aides said yesterday.

Civil rights leaders recently reminded President Bush about the expiring passages and have been working to get congressional leaders' attention for the issue. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has made outreach to minorities and support for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act a hallmark of his chairmanship. ...

"While we have made progress and curtailed injustices thanks to the Voting Rights Act, our work is not yet complete," Sensenbrenner said in a prepared text. "We cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains. The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist -- and exist in its current form."

Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington office, said that it was "very good" to hear about Sensenbrenner's remarks and that he is anxious to work with him. Shelton said the act should be extended in its current form "at the very least," but perhaps should be expanded.

"There also needs to be a commitment to see to it that as we reauthorize, we actually strengthen it so that all Americans have the right to register, to cast an unfettered vote and to have that vote counted," Shelton said.

The pressure to move the goalposts should be resisted. While one expiring portion of the Act should almost certainly be renewed, another should really be rethought.

The slam-dunk portion involves the states getting approval from the Department of Justice before changing the date, time, or manner of casting votes for any election. With the age of mass media, one would expect that such a provision would no longer be necessary to ensure that a municipality would try a sleight-of-hand to disenfranchise a subset of its voters. However, Congress needs to enforce this rule equally and fairly if it intends on extending it. That means places like St. Louis should not be allowed to extend its voting hours suddenly, without notice, and the courts should be enjoined from ordering such solutions. Courts can be as corrupt as local governments, after all; that is one of the reasons why the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act exists.

The second provision should be allowed to expire. In a country where citizenship nominally requires a working command of English, we have no reason to produce ballots in any other language than that. Citizenship, as opposed to legal residency, has its responsibilities for the citizen -- and among them are the responsibility to know and understand the issues, and to make an effort to assimilate into American culture. When we enable people to avoid learning English, we promote the balkanization of our culture. Perhaps we need to provide multilingual options for other government services, but voting requires citizenship, and citizenship requires a functional grasp of our primary language. Forcing states to spend extra money to enable the avoidance of the duties of citizenship not only wastes cash, but encourages the building of cultural barriers we don't need.

Let's hope that the GOP takes a sensible approach to the Voting Rights Act. We need to continue our outreach to the minority communities, but we don't need to become Democrats to do it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 10, 2005 5:08 AM

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