House Republicans have forced the House leadership to table the vote to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which protects the voting rights of racial minorities, particularly in states with histories of discrimination. Some elements of the law are due to expire in 2007, including the provision that some states receive the approval of the Justice Department before changing their election procedures. In early May, federal lawmakers announced that they had reached a bipartisan agreement regarding the renewal of the VRA but House Republicans, to the surprise of the leadership, have now put its renewal in doubt.
The proposed legislation clarifies sections intended to prohibit any change with a discriminatory intent, to allow minorities to elect their candidates of choice, and to provide materials in other languages where necessary. The Washington Post reports that a letter written by Representative Steve King (R-IA) railing against multilingual ballots and the use of interpreters during local and state votes was signed by almost 80 House Republicans. Southern Republican lawmakers also insist that their voting processes should not be overseen at the federal level, according to the Post.
Leading civil rights and women’s rights groups have endorsed the legislation, including the Feminist Majority, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), and the League of Women Voters. Wade Henderson, executive director of the LCCR, stated, “We are extremely disappointed that the House did not vote today to renew and restore the Voting Rights Acts because of a small bad of miscreants, at the last moment, hijacked this bipartisan, bicameral bill.”