Democratic lawmakers are introducing a new bill that is set to restore the cornerstone of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted the decades-old legislation two years prior.
The move comes just days before the anniversary of the June 25, 2013 decision that obliterated Section 5 and in turn, strengthened voter discrimination sanctioned by states. The new bill, The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, would require federal approval for voter ID laws, The Nation writes. The bill — introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, leaders from the Black Caucus, Asian Pacific America Caucus, and Hispanic Caucus, and co-sponsored by Rep. John Lewis — will also block efforts by states to suppress minority votes.
The bill will include the following provisions, compiled by MSNBC:
– An updated coverage formula for the VRA, with the result that the nation’s three largest states—California, Texas and New York—as well as North Carolina and Alabama, would need federal approval, known as pre-clearance, to make changes to their election rules. If the bill were passed this year, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia also would be covered. Under last year’s legislation, known as the Voting Rights Amendment Act, only four states—Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama—would immediately have been covered.
– A requirement that all 50 states get federal approval for any new barrier to voting or voter registration—as well as for other changes that often hurt minorities, like changing the number or location of polling places, or moving from a district-based to an at-large system for apportioning seats. In an effort to win Republican support, the 2014 bill gave special treatment to voter ID laws by not counting them among the violations that could cause an area to be put under the pre-clearance system.
– A requirement that jurisdictions publicly post any changes to voting rules within 180 days of an election, designed to help stop last-minute changes that fly under the radar.
The newest effort to restore the necessary act is reportedly stronger than an earlier bipartisan effort introduced last year. According to MSNBC, that legislation has not yet had its day of hearing in Congress, which is now Republican-controlled.
It’s unclear what obstacles The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 may face with GOP leaders in its way, but the outlook isn’t positive.
According to The Nation:
Few Republicans were willing to support the more modest VRAA, even after the historic 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma. Leahy could not find a GOP co-sponsor in the Senate for the old bill or the new one. That’s a sad development, given that the VRA has always had strong bipartisan support, and the 2006 reauthorization of the law was approved 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate and signed by George W. Bush. “A decision has been made within the Republican Party that we’re not going to do anything,” Leahy said.
The rush to protect voters is not a coincidence — as The Nation notes, the 2016 presidential election will be the first in five decades where voters are not blanketed with the previous Teflon of the Voting Rights Act. If the legislation fails to pass, thousands of minority voters risk being disenfranchised by their states.
See here for an in-depth look into the newest effort to bulk up the VRA.