The GOP and the Voting Rights Act

Jun 22 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Today's episode in the ongoing tragicomic farce that is the American Congress involves the renewal of several provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Over the years, the VRA has gained a wide base of bipartisan support, and renewal of the act has typically been relatively easy. This time wasn't looking all that different - the Democratic caucus, White House, and Republican Congressional Leadership were all in favor - but that seems to have changed rather quickly today.

Apparently, the Republicans are (again) having problems with their rank-and-file members. The revolt apparently revolves around two issues: the states that are singled out by the act as requiring federal pre-clearance of any voting changes, and the requirement that multi-language ballots be provided in areas where they might be needed. The singling out of some states as requiring pre-clearance from the Justice Department is something that has irritated politicians in the areas in question for quite some time. They argue that while the pre-clearance might have been necessary back in the bad old days, they've been good and don't deserve the special treatment anymore. I'd have some sympathy for that argument, if it wasn't blatantly false - the Justice Department has objected to proposed election changes in the effected states literally hundreds of times over the past couple of decades (see here for an overview of the situation in just one of those states). I have much less sympathy for the language objections.
Proponents of the single-language ballot frame the argument as being related to immigration, and say that immigrants should have to learn English. The problem with that argument is that the vast majority of immigrants who want to become citizens already must demonstrate some proficiency in English. The people that the language requirements are meant to protect, and who are at risk of being effectively blocked from the political process if the requirement is dropped, are mostly native-born Americans. Despite the best efforts of the Republicans, not every family in the country uses English within the home. Some Americans who are citizens by birth do not do as well with English as they do with the language that they were raised with. Having things like voting instructions available in their native language makes it easier for them to vote with confidence.
I'd love to be able to tell you exactly which lawmakers are in favor of disenfranchising this group of native-born Americans, but I can't. You see, the decision to postpone the renewal vote indefinitely was made in a closed-door Republican caucus. Given the overwhelming support for the renewal among Democrats, the votes are almost certainly there to pass the bill. The Republican leadership is postponing the bill strictly to save themselves from the embarassment of needing the Democratic votes to get the measure passed. Heaven forbid, after all, that they actually allow the minority party anything more than a symbolic role in a substantive matter.

2 responses so far

  • theRidger says:

    Lynn Westmoreland isn't having a great week, is he? Or maybe he thinks he is ... He can recite three of the ten commandments, he's against the voting rights act ... What's next?

  • jackd says:

    The sore point is, as you write, he VRA provisions that require Justice Department approval of election changes in the former Confederate states. While I agree, and your linked article reinforces, that this oversight is still needed, there is still a question of fairness. Why are no other states' election laws given this scrutiny? I won't say that the case can't be made that the old rebel states are still worse than the others, but has anyone done so?