updated 10/25/2005 6:27:32 PM ET 2005-10-25T22:27:32

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

Brad Schlozman, who oversees the department’s civil rights division, said that of the 121,000 changes reviewed in the past 40 years, it has objected to only 1,400 — less than 1 percent. In the past decade, the rate was even lower — with only 37 objections, or 0.2 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 5, that requires states with a history of discriminatory practices, most of them in the South, to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. Congress is expected to pass a 25-year extension next year.

“The declining number shows it has had a very valid deterrent effect,” Schlozman said.

But 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a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the department’s own figures prove the requirement is outdated.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.

Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., dismissed that argument, saying it was akin to doing away with meat inspectors just because there has been a drop in the number of infected cows.

Of the 4,000 to 6,000 election changes the Justice Department reviews each year, most are non-controversial, such as a request to move a polling place or extend voting hours, Schlozman said. Only a very small number involve redistricting — the most politically charged change — and few of those face significant opposition.

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