SENATE RENEWS 1965 VOTING RIGHTS ACT
BY LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer July 20, 2006
WASHINGTON - The 1965 Voting Rights Act, which opened voting booths to
millions of black Americans, won a 25-year extension from Congress Thursday as Republicans sought to improve their standing
with minorities before the fall election.
The legislation, approved
98-0 by the Senate after last week's overwhelming House passage, now goes to President Bush, who told the NAACP earlier in the day that he looked forward to signing it.
"The Voting Rights Act is
one of the most important pieces of legislation in our nation's history," Bush said in a statement. "It has been vital to
guaranteeing the right to vote for generations of Americans and has helped millions of our citizens enjoy the full promise
A centerpiece of the 1960s
civil rights movement, the law ended poll taxes, literacy tests and other election devices that had been used for decades
to keep blacks from voting.
"The Voting Rights Act has
worked. It has achieved its intended purpose," said Majority Leader Bill Frist, who timed the Senate's debate to occur while
Bush made his first-ever address to the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People.
The House passed the bill
last week 390-33 with opposition mostly from Southern lawmakers who objected to renewing a law that requires their states
win Justice Department approval before changing any voting rules — punishment, they said, for racist practices decades
in the past.
Some also objected to provisions
that require jurisdictions with large populations of non-English-speaking citizens to print ballots in languages other than
Several Southern senators
echoed the concerns of their House counterparts, but there were few obstacles to passage in that chamber.
"Is this the very best that
we can do at this time? Yes, it is," said Sen. John, R-Texas.
The nine states required
to win Justice Department approval for any voting practice changes are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia,
Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina,
Texas and Virginia
Others senators showered
the law with praise for its successes. The act was still necessary, proponents said, pointing to congressional hearings that
showed certain districts still make it harder for minorities and citizens with limited understanding of English to be informed
when they cast ballots.
The effect of the law "has
been profound, to put it mildly," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., whose panel a day earlier approved
the renewal, 18-0.
"It will not remove all
discrimination by any means," said Sen. Patrick, D-Vt. "But it is a major step to let everybody in the country know that all
of us — all of us — are equal as Americans with equal rights, no matter the color of our skin."
Two senators did not vote:
Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
The legislation would renew
several provisions of the law set to expire next year. They include one requiring jurisdictions with large populations of
voters who do not speak English to print ballots in several languages and provide other assistance.
Some lawmakers had complained
that the policy discourages people from learning English. But House
Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said that most people who need the assistance were
born here and deserve the help.
The bill is H.R. 9.