WASHINGTON -- Renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which eliminated many anti black voting practices, suffered a setback yesterday when House Republicans disagreed on whether to require bilingual ballots and federal oversight of Southern states.
The dissension in a closed caucus meeting grew so intense it forced Republican leaders to postpone indefinitely a scheduled vote on renewing the act.
On the voting rights bill, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and three other leaders only promised a vote on the renewal ``as soon as possible." The uncertainty in the House led Senate schedulers to hold off on a plan to advance an identical bill next week.
``Apparently, the leadership of the Republican Party cannot bring its own rank-and-file members into line to support the Voting Rights Act," said Representative Artur Davis, a Democrat from Alabama.
``That ought to be a significant embarrassment as they fan around the country trying to skim off a few black votes in the next four months," Davis said.
Several Republicans, many from Southern states, contended at the meeting that the renewal unfairly singled out nine states for federal oversight, without according them credit for making strides against discriminatory voting practices in their pasts.
But a dozen House hearings have demonstrated that discrimination still exists, according to Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Republican from Wisconsin who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He and the committee's top Democrat, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, insisted that the measure be passed by the House without any changes.
Sensenbrenner said the hearings made clear that federal oversight still is needed in nine states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.