This week a new voting rights bill was introduced as an attempt to remedy the Supreme Court decision last year that gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Last year’s Supreme Court decision struck down a portion of the law that required states with a history of voting discrimination to get clearance from the federal government before making changes to voting laws in their jurisdiction.
The new bill introduced by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), John Conyers (D-MI), and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) creates a new coverage formula for the states that have a history of voting discrimination and requires states that discriminate against voters five times over a 15 year period to fall under federal supervision. The bill also mandates that any changes to voting laws that occur within six months of an election will require public notice and publication on the Internet of those changes so that the voting population can be aware of the changes.
The new voting rights bill does not address voter ID requirements.
According to Ari Melber at MSNBC:
“While the Supreme Court has upheld the concept of photo identification requirements to vote, some lower courts have found such requirements do violate the Voting Rights Act. The bill attempts to sidestep that precedent in its new formula for patrolling discrimination.
It states that violations based on voter ID do not count toward the “five strikes” in the formula.”
Rep. Sensenbrenner has been a supporter of voter ID laws.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has expressed disappointment with the new bill because of the exclusion of voter ID laws and a decreased preclearance region.
In a statement, the NAACP said:
“The NAACP appreciates that the U.S. Congress has made a bipartisan effort to update the Voting Rights Act, however we have serious concerns about the ability of some provisions in this bill to protect ALL voters from discrimination at the polls … From the exceptions for voter ID laws to decreased preclearance coverage to increased reliance on costly litigation, there are essential revisions and amendments to this bill that must take place to ensure ALL voters have fair and equitable access to the ballot box.”
The folks at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) also seek the strengthen the newly introduced bill.
In a statement, MALDEF’s President Thomas Saenz said:
“At the same time, MALDEF strongly supports and will actively champion the inclusion in this legislation of what has been called ‘known practices coverage.’ This new approach would supplement the provisions introduced today by ensuring that certain limited electoral practices, historically demonstrated to be a threat to voting rights, are subject to a pre-clearance process, including in jurisdictions that have experienced a more recent change in population diversity. This approach will ensure that the new VRA pre-clearance mechanism serves a dynamic and fast-evolving twenty-first century America, rather than requiring challenges to these known suspect voting practices to be waged through time-consuming and cumbersome litigation that is extremely costly to both plaintiffs and defendants. Inclusion of ‘known practices coverage’ will secure a VRA that continues to support a robust national democracy through the next half-century and beyond.”