House backs voting rights extension

By Amanda Beck

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on
Thursday overwhelmingly approved a 25-year extension of the
1965 Voting Rights Act, preserving for another generation a law
that opened voting booths to minorities.

Often described as the crown jewel of the civil rights era,
the Voting Rights Act outlawed poll taxes, literacy tests and
other obstacles that had prevented African Americans and other
minorities from exercising their rights to vote. Since then,
minorities have voted in larger numbers, and more have been
elected to local and national office.

Most of the act is permanent, but portions of it expire if
not renewed periodically. The House vote was 390-33, and the
Senate is expected to give the bill, backed by President George
W. Bush, similar bipartisan support later this year.

House leaders had hoped to pass the bill, named for civil
rights heroines Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott
King, in June but were forced into a last-minute cancellation
when conservative Republicans argued it was time to change some
provisions. They said that southern states are not being given
full credit for the changes they have made since the civil
rights era.

Controversy centered on two issues — extra scrutiny for
mostly southern states with a legacy of voting discrimination
against minorities and a requirement to provide bilingual
ballots to citizens whose English is poor. Amendments that
would have softened those provisions were defeated.

(Additional reporting by Joanne Kenen)