Delay on Voting Rights Renewal Called 'Inexcusable'

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - A delay on the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, which expires at the end of 2007, is "inexcusable," according to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The renewal was put on hold after Republican lawmakers raised concerns over a provision that would single out nine states -- most of them in the south -- for federal oversight.

"The notion that a handful of Republicans from Southern states can rally enough support to hijack reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is a slap in the face to the civil rights pioneers after which this legislation is named -- Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King," said Waters in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) added that "Democrats are disappointed that the Voting Rights Act reauthorization has been pulled from the House floor today."

"This bill had the personal commitment and full support of the leadership of both parties in the House and the Senate," Pelosi said. "I hope that the Republicans will be able to quickly resolve their differences and that the Congress will be able to pass this vital legislation. It is critical that we do so as soon as possible, because our democracy depends on protecting the right of every American citizen to vote."

House Republican leaders, meanwhile, insisted that they are "committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible."

The Voting Rights Act "protects the right to vote, which is fundamental to our democracy," House GOP leaders said, calling it "one of our nation's most important civil rights laws."

"This morning we heard from several of our members regarding the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and they asked for more time to discuss and review the bill. We have time to address their concerns," said GOP leaders. "Therefore, the House Republican Leadership will offer members the time needed to evaluate the legislation."

A provision of the Voting Rights Act would subject nine states to federal oversight even though it has been decades since the racist policies were in effect. Republicans said the provision should be updated every four years instead and be based on voter turnout in the most recent three elections.

But Waters said the states in question still create roadblocks to minorities trying to vote.

"The nine Southern states that receive extra scrutiny under Section 5 of the VRA are states where minorities still report serious and intentionally manufactured barriers to voting," said Waters.

"This move should really make African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and other people whose communities continue to be intimidated and bullied on election day question how seriously the Republican Party takes their right to vote," added Waters.

"Out of respect for Ms. Hamer, Ms. Parks, and Ms. King and the sacrifices made by these venerable women, the Republican leadership in the House has a moral obligation to bring this bill to the floor today. We must vote on it, and pass it without amendments that will erode the progress that has been made to protect the voting rights of all Americans," she concluded.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is extending a provision requiring that ballots be printed in more than one language in neighborhoods where there is a large immigrant population, Republicans said.

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