Rocky Mountain News editorial left out key aspect of Republicans' opposition to renewal of Voting Rights Act

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In an editorial supporting the removal of a provision from a bill reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act that would require some localities to provide non-English ballots, the Rocky Mountain News omitted key information about Republican opposition to the renewal of portions of the law. The News did not mention that some House Republicans reportedly objected to the renewal of a provision requiring the Justice Department to approve election-law changes in nine states with a history of voter discrimination.

In a July 2 editorial supporting the removal of a provision from a bill reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that would require some localities to provide non-English ballots, the Rocky Mountain News omitted key information about Republican opposition to the renewal of portions of the law. The News editorial asserted that the "renewal ran into roadblocks the other day in the House, as Republicans split over the issue of whether jurisdictions should be required to print ballots in multiple languages, as hundreds are currently required to do now." The News did not mention, however, that House Republicans' objections went beyond the non-English ballot provision. Southern Republicans also reportedly opposed the renewal of a provision requiring the Justice Department to approve election-law changes in nine states with a history of voter discrimination.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in a June 22 article, "in a private morning meeting" on June 21, "Republicans raised objections that forced House leaders to yank the bill from the floor." The Times noted that "[o]ne concern had its roots in the bill's origins. The legislation requires nine states with a documented history of discrimination against black voters -- such as poll taxes and literacy tests -- to get Justice Department approval for their election laws." The Times also wrote: "The effort to amend the requirement that nine states clear election laws with the Justice Department was led by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.). The requirement, he argued, unfairly singled out Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia."

Similarly, as The New York Times reported in a June 22 article: "House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a planned vote to renew the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday [June 21] after a rebellion by lawmakers who said the civil rights measure unfairly singled out Southern states and unnecessarily required ballots to be printed in foreign languages."

The Voting Rights Act was initially passed in 1965. It prohibited the use of literacy tests and other forms of voter disenfranchisement. Under the law, nine states with histories of voter discrimination -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia -- were required to get approval, or "preclearance," from the Justice Department before changing election laws. The requirement that certain localities provide ballots in languages other than English was added during the 1975 reauthorization of the VRA. Both of those requirements drew Republican opposition and caused Republican lawmakers to delay a scheduled June 21 vote on the renewal of the act in the House. Unless Congress reauthorizes the VRA, sections of the law will expire in 2007.

From the July 2 Rocky Mountain News:

The Voting Rights Act turned 40 last year, to near universal acclaim, and well deserved acclaim it was, too. But several parts of the act are officially temporary, though they've been in place for decades, and they're set to expire in 2007 unless Congress renews them.

That renewal ran into roadblocks the other day in the House, as Republicans split over the issue of whether jurisdictions should be required to print ballots in multiple languages, as hundreds are currently required to do now. We believe the requirement should be lifted.

Look, we're not the sort who rail against businesses that offer services in other languages, complain about "press one for English" instructions, or have ever suggested denying schools, courts and other institutions the translators and other assistance needed in a land of so many immigrants.

But elections are different. Before casting a ballot, voters are supposed to have participated in the civic conversation known as a political campaign. They can't do that, for the most part, unless they speak English.

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