Thursday, January 16, 2014

Congress Seeks to Restore the Voting Rights Act

The Washington Post reports that:
Four states would have to run voting law changes by the federal government under a new bipartisan bill.

The bill reinstates oversight lost when the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the decades-old Voting Rights Act in June. In that ruling, the court found that the formula used to identify states whose voting laws still needed to be watched over for fear of discriminatory practices was outdated. In its ruling, the court did not strike down the right of the federal government to oversee changes to local voting laws; it merely struck down the rubric being used. The bill offers new guidelines for which states qualify and was proposed by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) along with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The four states affected under the legislation are Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, each of which would need to pre-clear changes to voting laws. It would not immediately reinstate oversight over Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, South Carolina and Virginia — all of which had been covered by the Voting Rights Act before the ruling. (Counties and townships in six other states — California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Michigan — were also covered before the ruling but wouldn’t be covered under the bill.)

Under the new formula, a state would fall back under federal watch if it commits five voting violations in a 15-year period and at least one is committed by the state itself. A county, town or other subdivision of a state would fall back under federal watch if it commits three violations over 15 years or commits one and has “persistent and extremely low minority voter turnout.”
In order for democracy to work, it is vital that all eligible citizens have the unfettered right to vote regardless of race. I commend the members of Congress for attempting to repair the damage done by the U.S. Supreme Court's disastrous Holder v. Shelby County decision. However, it is extremely disappointing to see states like Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia no longer covered under the new preclearance formula.

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