Voting Rights Act remains valid today

The Macon Telegraph:

It's not particularly surprising - actually, it was predictable - that Georgia's Republicans would oppose renewal of the Voting Rights Act even though that opposition doesn't have a snowball's chance in a very hot place of succeeding.

Even President Bush and his attorney general, as well as Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, support renewal of the act, which is to expire in 2007, for another 25 years. Section 5 of that act, mandating federal oversight and preclearance of voting laws adopted in Southern states, almost certainly will be approved.

And this is as it should be, despite the efforts of lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a first-term Republican from the West Georgia city of Grantville who has mobilized an effort to either scrap Section 5 of the act or make it apply equally to every state.

Westmoreland, who tends to take unpopular stands - he voted against an aid package to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims - says he has the support of most of Georgia's Republicans.

He cites a study that indicates that black voters have a higher turnout rate than white voters, and that black candidates now are frequently elected to office, as the reason why the act is no longer needed.

This approach - a thinly veiled continuation of the ''Southern Strategy'' designed by Sen. Barry Goldwater decades ago - is flawed in several ways: First, should the act be extended to all 50 states, it would seriously dilute the effect of challenges to laws that have civil-rights concerns.

Most of our states don't have a history of enacting laws, such as poll taxes, designed to undercut minority voters.

And perhaps most important, there is clear evidence that Georgia's Republicans are actively seeking ways to reduce the effectiveness of minority voters, who, incidentally, tend to support Democratic candidates.

The most recent example of this is the voter photo ID law passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

Although political appointees were instrumental in overturning a Justice Department staff recommendation that concluded the photo ID voter law would adversely impact minority voting, a federal court challenge of that decision has resulted in that law being placed on hold.

And for the foreseeable future, despite the possibility of political intervention in Justice Department decisions, the Voting Rights Act remains the best vehicle to protect the rights of voters.