The Republican bid to suppress minority turnout.

by John B. Judis | January 16, 2006

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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