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Bush Reauthorizes US Voting Rights Act

President Bush has reauthorized key civil rights protections for African American voters in southern states.

In the more than 40 years since the Voting Rights Act was first passed by Congress, President Bush says there has been progress toward racial equality, but the work toward a more perfect union is never ending.

"We will continue to build on the legal equality won by the civil rights movement to help ensure that every person enjoys the opportunity that this great land of liberty offers," he said. "And that means a decent education and a good school for every child, a chance to own your own home or business and the hope that comes from knowing that you can rise in our society by hard work and God-given talents."

Before November Congressional elections, President Bush and his Republican Party are trying to boost their standing among African-American voters who traditionally favor Democratic candidates. The president won about 11 percent of the black vote in his re-election.

It is an electoral reality Mr. Bush addressed last week in his first appearance as president before the nation's oldest civil rights group, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties with the African American community. For too long, my party wrote-off the African American vote. And many African Americans wrote-off the Republican Party," noted President Bush.

The Republican-led House and Senate approved extending the Voting Rights Act in this election year even though most of its provisions did not expire until next year.

President Bush invited civil rights leaders and African-American members of Congress to join him for the signing ceremony on the White House South Lawn.

He reauthorized for another 25 years, bans on racist voting practices in the South that require some of those states to have voting changes approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

Some of those states opposed extending the act because they say it applies a different standard to their elections. Backers of the legislation agree, but say that standard is justified.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed one year after Barbara Lee graduated from high school. She is now a Democratic Congresswoman from California.

"I am going to tell you, coming from Texas, El Paso, Texas, I remember very vividly the barriers to voting. And when I listened to the debate and participated in it this time, those who wouldn't support pre-clearance or bi-lingual ballots I think were coming from a place that I don't want to actually go to," she said.

President Bush vowed that his administration will vigorously defend the Voting Rights Act in court, saying the right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future lies at the heart of what he calls the American experiment.