Justice department favors voting rights act extension

A Justice Department official urged Congress Tuesday to renew a key part of the Voting Rights Act. He called it a major deterrent to local election changes that would discriminate against minorities.

Brad Schlozman, who oversees the department's civil rights division, said that of the 121,000 changes reviewed in the last 40 years, it has objected to only 1,400 -- less than one than 1 percent.

The House Judiciary Committee's panel on the Constitution is trying to determine whether that success is enough to scrap a requirement known as Section Five. The rule governs states with a history of discriminatory practices, most in the South.

They must get federal approval before changing their voting laws. Congress is expected to pass a 25-year extension next year.

Edward Blum, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the department's own figures prove the requirement is outdated. He also cited a recent study that shows the turnout rate for black voters exceeds white voters in Georgia and that black candidates have little trouble getting elected there.

Representative John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and longtime civil rights leader, acknowledged there has been progress. But he said there has not been nearly enough to consider overturning Section Five.

Associated Press