On Sunday, Greg Palast published a column pouring scorn on the Republican party for delaying the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. -- "This is a strategic stall that is meant to decriminalize the Republican party's new game of challenging voters of color by the hundreds of thousands," and from the party that claims to be deeply devoted to bringing democracy to the Middle East and elsewhere. -- What's wrong with this picture: Palast's column is published in the London Guardian, not in the United States. -- But that's where his message needs to be heard: "If the Voting Rights Act dies in 2007, the 2008 race will be open season on dark-skinned voters. Only the renewal of the Voting Rights Act can prevent the planned racial wrecking of democracy." -- Palast pours scorn on the notion that Republicans who are opposed to the renewal are trying "to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court," as Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA 8th) claimed in the New York Times article reporting on the unexpected development last week. -- Carl Hulse reported that the Republican House leadership issued a statement saying that "While the bill will not be considered today, the House G.O.P. leadership is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible," but Greg Palast suggests that the evidence points to the nefarious hand of Karl Rove....
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DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS
By Greg Palast
** U.S. Republicans are planning to change the law to stop black, Hispanic, and Native American voters going to the polls in 2008. **
June 25, 2006
Don't kid yourself: the Republican party's decision yesterday to "delay" the renewal of the Voting Rights Act has not a darn thing to do with objections of the Republican's white sheets caucus.
Complaints by a couple of good ol' boys to legislation have never stopped the GOP leadership from rolling over dissenters.
This is a strategic stall that is meant to decriminalize the Republican party's new game of challenging voters of color by the hundreds of thousands.
In the 2004 presidential race, the GOP ran a massive, multi-state, multimillion-dollar operation to challenge the legitimacy of black, Hispanic, and Native American voters. The methods used breached the Voting Rights Act, and while the Bush administration's civil rights division grinned and looked the other way, civil rights lawyers began circling, preparing to sue to stop the violations of the act before the 2008 race.
So Republicans have promised to no longer break the law -- not by going legit but by eliminating the law.
The act was passed in 1965 after the Ku Klux Klan and other upright citizens found they could use procedural tricks -- "literacy tests," poll taxes, and more -- to block citizens of color from casting ballots.
Here is what happened in 2004, and what's in store for 2008.
In the 2004 election, more than 3 million voters were challenged at the polls. No one had seen anything like it since the era of Jim Crow and burning crosses. In 2004, voters were told their registrations had been purged or that their addresses were "suspect."
Denied the right to the regular voting booths, these challenged voters were given "provisional" ballots. More than 1m of these provisional ballots (1,090,729 of them) were tossed in the electoral dumpster uncounted.
A funny thing about those ballots: about 88% were cast by minority voters.
This isn't a number dropped on me from a black helicopter: they come from the raw data of the U.S. election assistance commission in Washington, D.C.
At the heart of the GOP's mass challenge of voters was what the party's top brass called "caging lists" -- secret files of hundreds of thousands of voters, almost every one from a black-majority voting precinct.
When our investigations team, working for BBC TV, got our hands on these confidential files in October 2004, the Republicans told us the voters listed were their potential "donors." Really? The sheets included pages of men from homeless shelters in Florida.
Donor lists, my ass. Every expert told us, these were "challenge lists" meant to stop these black voters from casting ballots.
When these "caged" voters arrived at the polls in November 2004, they found their registrations missing, their right to vote blocked or their absentee ballots rejected because their addresses were supposedly "fraudulent."
Why didn't the GOP honchos fess up to challenging these allegedly illegal voters? Because targeting voters of color is against the law. The law in question is the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The act says you can't go after groups of voters if you choose your targets based on race. Given that almost all the voters on the GOP hit list are black, the illegal racial profiling is beyond even Karl Rove's ability to come up with an alibi.
The Republicans target black folk not because they don't like the color of their skin; they don't like the color of their vote: Democrat. For that reason, the GOP included on its hit list Jewish retirement homes in Florida. Apparently, the GOP was also gunning for the Elderly of Zion.
These so-called "fraudulent" voters, in fact, were not fraudulent at all. Page after page, as we have previously reported, are black soldiers sent overseas. The Bush campaign used their absence from their U.S. homes to accuse them of voting from false addresses.
Now that the GOP has been caught breaking the voting rights law, it has found a way to keep using its expensively obtained "caging" lists: let the law expire next year. If the Voting Rights Act dies in 2007, the 2008 race will be open season on dark-skinned voters. Only the renewal of the Voting Rights Act can prevent the planned racial wrecking of democracy.
Before the 2000 presidential ballot, then Jeb Bush purged thousands of Black citizens' registrations on the grounds that they were "felons" not entitled to vote. Our review of the files determined that the crime of most people on the list was nothing more than VWB -- Voting While Black.
That "felon scrub," as the state called it, had to be "pre-cleared" under the Voting Rights Act. That is, the U.S. Justice Department must approve "scrubs" and other changes in procedures.
The Florida felon scrub slipped through this "pre-clearance" provision because Katherine Harris's assistant assured the government the scrub was just a clerical matter. Civil rights lawyers are now on the alert for such mendacity.
The burning cross caucus of the Republican Party is bitching that "pre-clearance" of voting changes applies only to southern states. I have to agree that singling out the old Confederacy is a bit unfair. But the solution is not to smother the voting rights law but to spread its safeguards to all 50 of these United States.
Republicans argue that the racial voting games and the threats of the white-hooded Klansmen that kept African-Americans from the ballot box before the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act no longer threaten black voters.
That's true. When I look over the "caging lists" and the "scrub sheets," it's clear to me that the GOP has traded in white sheets for spreadsheets.
REBELLION STALLS EXTENSION OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT
By Carl Hulse
New York Times
June 22, 2006
WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a planned vote to renew the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday 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 reversal represented a significant embarrassment for the party leadership, which had promised a vote to extend the act, the 1965 law that is credited with ending rampant discrimination at the polls and electing black officeholders throughout the South. Early last month, House and Senate leaders of both parties gathered on the steps of the Capitol in a rare bipartisan moment to celebrate its imminent approval.
But just hours before the vote was to occur Wednesday, lawmakers critical of the bill mutinied in a closed morning meeting of House Republicans, raising sufficient objections to prompt the leadership to pull the bill indefinitely.
Several lawmakers said it was uncertain whether a majority of Republicans would back the legislation without the changes sought by critics, and under the House leadership's informal rules no bill can reach a vote without the support of a majority of the Republicans.
"A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who are trying to do away with it," said Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who said it would be unfair to keep Georgia under the confines of the law when his state has cleaned up its voting rights record. "But these old boys are trying to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court."
Despite the resistance, the Republican leadership issued a statement pledging to move ahead quickly with a vote once Republicans were given additional time to work out their differences.
"While the bill will not be considered today, the House G.O.P. leadership is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible," the leadership said in the statement.
Democrats and civil rights groups expressed strong disappointment in the change of plans, particularly given what appeared to be a bipartisan consensus to push ahead before major elements of the law expire in the middle of next year. The renewal would be for 25 years.
"We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with partisan intentions space and time to politicize the issue," said Representative Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat who is the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Democrats said they were holding their political fire to some degree in the interests of winning passage of the measure, but they predicted it could become a significant political issue if the fight dragged on too long.
The delay marked the second time in days that House Republicans had pulled back on legislation. On Tuesday, the leadership announced it would hold hearings this summer on immigration policy before trying to negotiate legislation that differs from the Senate.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August 1965 after a string of violence in Southern states resulting from deep resistance to voting by blacks. The law instituted a nationwide prohibition against voting discrimination based on race, eliminated poll taxes and literacy tests, and put added safeguards in regions where discrimination had been especially pronounced. Those included a requirement for the Justice Department to review any proposed changes to voting procedures to judge if they would be discriminatory.
That "preclearance" requirement would be retained for the nine states entirely covered by the law, most of them in the South, and parts of seven others. But Mr. Westmoreland and other Southern Republicans said their states have made great strides in voting access for members of minority groups, while some of the most recent irregularities have taken place in places exempt from the requirement.
"The hanging chads down in Florida, that jurisdiction is not covered," he said.
Advocates of the act say the history of discrimination in the covered states justifies their special status and that leaders who believe their jurisdictions should be exempt can apply to "bail out" through a federal review.
"The fact of the matter is that you have a small group of members who have hijacked this bill, and many of these individuals represent states that have been in violation for a long time," said Nancy M. Zirkin, deputy director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "We believe these individuals do not want the Voting Rights Act reauthorized."
The Republican leadership of the House and the Senate decided earlier this year to proceed speedily with the renewal to put to rest fears that Republicans intended to let it expire next year, and to try to make political inroads with minority groups. If the act is allowed to expire, Democrats will almost certainly accuse Republicans of trying to turn the clock back on civil rights.
But Southern lawmakers, mainly from Georgia and Texas, continued to push their objections, with some suggesting the House hold off action pending a Supreme Court ruling on a Texas redistricting case.
A new problem arose as some Republicans, already caught up in a fight over immigration policy, began raising questions about a requirement for bilingual ballots in cases where political jurisdictions meet a certain threshold for citizens who struggle with English.
Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, has pushed a proposal to eliminate that plan, arguing that naturalized citizens should have had to prove English proficiency as part of their citizenship test and that American-born speakers of other languages are entitled to assistance at the polls.
"There is no need to print ballots in any language other than English," Mr. King said Wednesday.
But the leadership did not allow him to offer the provision, angering some Republicans. Lawmakers and aides said that Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also left Wednesday's meeting without answering questions about the bill, angering others. In the resulting tumult, the leadership decided to delay the vote.