Posted by Tom Rossmeissl on
Renew the VRA
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits discrimination in voting. The act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson during the American Civil Rights Movement when minorities in the South faced significant obstacles to voting, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, harassment, intimidation, and various bureaucratic restrictions to deny them the right to vote.
The VRA of 1965 gave the Federal Government the power to regulate state voting laws giving minorities an opportunity to partake in American democracy.
In 2013, however, the Supreme Court arguably “gutted” the Act. This decision, Shelby v. Holder, eliminated Section 4b, which contained the formula by which states and jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination were determined to require federal preclearance before changing any election laws or voting practices. Without Section 4b, Section 5, which authorizes federal preclearance, became unenforceable.
Just hours after the Supreme Court decision was issued, Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, announced that Texas planned to immediately proceed with its restrictive Voter ID law. A variety of other states such as North Carolina and Mississippi followed suit and enacted other restrictive laws. Florida announced plans to limit early voting, a practice studies have shown that is used heavily by African Americans in the state.
Where does this leave us now?
In January 2014 Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R –WI) and John Conyers (D-MI), and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The Act would revive section 4 with a new formula that would trigger preclearance for states that have five violations of federal election laws within the last 15 years. The act would also force all fifty states to report redistricting changes to local media outlets in advance, as well as making it easier to seek a preliminary injunction against potentially discriminatory laws and to sue to have a jurisdiction fall under federal supervision.
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