GOP in-fighting holds up hyped Voting Rights compromise

Brian Beutler
Published: Monday July 10, 2006

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After being pulled from the House schedule before recess, the expired provisions of the Voting Rights Act will go before the floor mid-week for renewal.

But some Democratic sources close to the process say that they believe provisions may be pulled once again.

That’s because of two amendments--issued by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA)--that would weaken federal oversight of changes that states make to their election processes.

The renewal, the result of a compromise reached by leadership from both parties, was originally scheduled as a suspension vote, which would prohibit the consideration of such amendments. But, after a hearing in the House Rules Committee, the two were approved.

"They had this big press conference in a bipartisan fashion, announcing a deal that said there would be no amendments," noted one Democratic aide who wished to remain anonymous. "Then, they changed the rules to allow two amendments."

The terms of the amendments, if they pass, would make Hawaii the only state required to seek justice department approval for any changes to their electoral systems. Currently that requirement applies to 16 states. Neither is expected to succeed in a full House vote.

Democrats say that, while a history of racism and disenfranchisement in southern states remains a concern of theirs, the real reason to avoid these amendments is to prevent the sorts of recently enacted measures that have allowed Republicans to take control of more seats in the house from continuing.

“If you’ve been looking at what happened in recent elections—the Tom Delay Situation—what they did was redistrict texas in a way that allowed 5 more GOP members to be elected," said another Democratic aide. "And the voting process has been rigged in such a way that it’s easier for republicans to get elected. We want to make ensure that they don’t tamper with the election system in other ways.”

Republicans contend that the provision in question—section 5 of the VRA—does not take into account improvements that southern states have made in equality and minority representation. Aides to both Rep. Norwood and Rep. Westmoreland noted that, unless their amendments are approved, section 5 may one day be ruled unconstitutional.

“They don’t know what a pain in the ass this is," Brian Robinson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Westmoreland told RAW STORY. "They don’t care that this is an infringement on federalism."

"It treats our state as if we’d made no progress," he added, "and it is an insult. It doesn’t matter that the people who oppressed minorities are dead. People who are pushing it should be ashamed. They are lying about what we are trying to do. I bet you my right fist--I will chop it off--that in 10 years [Section 5] will get tossed. And I’ll tell you who will do it: Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Kennedy. Kennedy might be a swing.”

Referring to Georgia’s advancements in representational and voting equality between races, Robinson noted that “Chairman Sensenbrenner’s state hasn’t had as much success.” James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the Judiciary committee, is a representative from Wisconsin.

An aide to Rep Westmoreland also claimed that representational and voting equality are better today in Georgia (Westmoreland’s state) than in Wisconsin, home to Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who heads the Judiciary committee.

But Democrats remain skeptical that Republicans can come to a unified position on the provisions. Some say they see the renewal going to the floor by Thursday, in a form that violates the much-publicized compromise agreement. Others aren't so certain.

"I'm personally fairly convinced that it will be pulled again," said one aide, convinced that the Georgia and Texas delegations would hold up the renewal again. "It's a test of Boehner's leadership, really."