From the Brennan Center for Justice: Bipartisan Bill Introduced: Congress Must Restore Voting Rights Act
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, members of Congress [on Wednesday, February 11th] reintroduced a bipartisan bill to strengthen and restore the law’s core protection, which the U.S. Supreme Court gutted in 2013.
The measure is sponsored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and others. The bill was also introduced last year, but the Senate held just one hearing on the legislation, and the House refused to hold a hearing.
“Fifty years ago, tragedy in the streets of Selma galvanized our nation to pass the Voting Rights Act and bring equality to the ballot box,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C., office. “Today, that core protection is in tatters and discrimination continues to tarnish our elections. America was founded on the principle that we are all ‘created equal.’ To fulfill that promise, we need an election system that works well for everyone, and doesn’t tolerate discrimination against anyone. We urge Congress to quickly pass this bill and ensure Americans have strong voting protections in time for the 2016 election.”
Here are the key provisions:
The Voting Rights Amendment Act would, among other changes:
– Require jurisdictions with a recent record of repeated Voting Rights Act violations to pre-clear election law changes.
– Expand the current “bail-in” procedures, which allow courts to subject jurisdictions to preclearance.
– Create a uniform requirement to inform voters of certain pending voting changes.
– Enhance the ability of lawyers to halt discriminatory election measures before they can harm citizens.
– Allow federal observers to monitor elections to ensure compliance with laws protecting the rights of Americans who speak limited English.
The VRA has been continually reauthorized since it was passed in 1965 and has always had bipartisan support. The most recent reauthorization, in 2006, was with a Republican Congress and a Republican president. Voting rights should not be a partisan issue: the right to choose our government is the most basic right in a democracy.
So why can’t we do this?
Because the Republican Congress is controlled by the teaparty with its scorched earth politics of exclusion. Their hold on power depends on disenfranchising those who disagree with them because their ideas are repulsive to the majority of Americans.
If there are any Republicans who still care about small “d” democracy, they should pressure their leadership to bring this bill to the House floor for a vote, get it passed and then send it to the Senate for a vote.
We can do it and we must.