The Republican bid to suppress minority turnout.

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JANUARY 16, 2006

The Republican bid to suppress minority turnout.

Over the last 14 months, Republicans have backed bills and
initiatives in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, Wisconsin, South
Dakota, and Ohio that would require voters to present special kinds
of identification at polling places or in order to register. These
sorts of requirements inordinately affect black, Latino, and Native
American voters.The Bush administration is supposed to monitor changes in the voting
laws to see if they accord with the Voting Rights Act. Last August,
the Justice Department accepted Georgia's law, but only because
political appointees within the Civil Rights Division overruled the
recommendation of career lawyers.

Last month, Bush showed he is fully in sync with the Republican
strategy by nominating Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election
Commission. Von Spakovsky was the chairman of the Republican Party
in Fulton County, Georgia, before joining the Justice Department,
where he was one of the political appointees who overruled the
staff recommendation on Georgia's voting measure. Bush also
nominated two Supreme Court justices who have a questionable history
on voting rights. As a Reagan administration official, the new
Chief Justice John Roberts took a leading role in attempting to
dilute the Voting Rights Act. In his application for a job in the
Reagan administration, nominee Samuel Alito expressed skepticism
about the validity of Baker v. Carr, which required congressional
districts to conform to "one man, one vote." Here's hoping senators
on the Judiciary Committee will take note of this issue in Alito's
confirmation hearings.

Democratization experts often argue that bringing radical groups
into politics can serve to moderate them. Recent events in Lebanon
suggest that this analysis is mistaken. In July 2005, the Shia
terrorist group Hezbollah claimed a cabinet position in Beirut for
the first time, taking over the energy ministry. Far from
moderating, Hezbollah has only grown more strident and disruptive
during the last five months. But this has yielded an unexpected
benefit: Lebanese are increasingly fed up with Hezbollah's behavior.
In other words, bringing Islamist parties into government can
sometimes pay dividends not because they will moderate once offered
a share of power--but because they won't.

In November, Hezbollah and fellow Shia group Amal withdrew their
ministers from a cabinet meeting. Later in the month, Hezbollah
overshadowed Lebanon's independence day celebrations by launching a
major attack against Israel. Israel responded by bombing southern
Lebanon and sprinkling leaflets on Beirut accusing Hezbollah of
provoking a "return to destruction." Then, in late December, Israel
struck a Palestinian base outside Beirut after accusing Hezbollah
of collaborating with a pro-Syrian Palestinian militia group to
launch rockets at an Israeli border town.

After nearly 30 years of Syrian occupation, Lebanese do not want to
be drawn into another war if Hezbollah provokes Israel. "The
Lebanese are sick of slogans and rhetoric," says the associate
publisher of Beirut's Daily Star, referring to months of political
agitation that eventually drove Syria out but has also devastated
the country's economy. "We need to eat."

* Will Rasmussen was a reporter at The Daily Star in Beirut from
July 2004 to December 2005.

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