The US House of Representatives passed an update of the 1965 Voting rights Act. This restores a crucial provision of the landmark civil right law, which requires that places with a history of discrimination in voting be subject to federal supervision.
The bill now faces an uncertain future in the US Senate, where it needs the support of 10 Republican Senators to overcome the filibuster and pass. While Senator Joe Manchin, a key Democratic swing vote, supports the bill, just one Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has indicated that she does.
The House passed a similar version of the legislation in 2019, gaining just one GOP vote, but it never passed the Senate, which was then under GOP control.
This legislation is one of the two pillars of the push by congressional Democrats to protect voting rights. The legislation establishes a 25 year look-back period to assess voting rights in different jurisdictions. A court must document at least 15 violations of voting rights in a state within the time period. If the violation is committed in its entirety, only 10 violations will trigger federal oversight.
Eight years ago, the US supreme Court ruled that the law that determines which states are subject to pre-clearance was obsolete and rescinded the original formula. Voting advocates have said that ruling, in a case called Shelby County v Holder, has offered states a green light to discriminate against Black voters.
“Old battles are indeed being remade. Although literacy tests and poll taxes are no longer required, some states and localities have passed laws that make it difficult to vote,” Terri Sewell (an Alabama Democrat who represents Selma at Congress) said Tuesday.
The states that would have to get election changes approved are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, Peyton McCrary, a former Justice Department historian, testified earlier this month. McCrary says that there could be coverage for several large US counties, including Los Angeles County, California, Cook County, Illinois, Westchester County, New York, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Northampton County, Virginia.
The law also details several procedures that would be subjected to federal pre-clearance throughout the country. These include changes to voter ID laws and reductions in polling places.
Republicans criticized the measure, claiming it was unnecessary and that it gave the federal government too many powers to supervise elections.
Rodney Davis, a Republican from Illinois, stated that voting for this legislation would mean you were supporting a federal takeover. “I hope that my colleagues and Americans will see this bill as it is: a partisan power grab.”
Democrats laughed at the idea that the bill wasn’t needed during debate. It was a bill that came at a time when hundreds of voting restrictions legislation were being drafted by Republican lawmakers. Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, described it as the “worst voter suppression campaign in America” since Jim Crow.
The bill includes many new provisions to protect voting rights. While federal pre-clearance is most prominent, it also contains several other new provisions. It essentially undoes a supreme court decision from earlier this year that makes it extremely difficult to bring challenges to voting laws under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. It also increases protections for minorities voters under the Voting Rights act during redistricting.
Two issues were raised in the unprecedented wave of litigation that erupted during the 2020 election. First, courts cannot decline to strike down legislation because of close elections – something several courts did in 2020. Second, courts would have to offer an explanation for their reasoning in voting rights cases, a provision designed to take aim at the supreme court’s practice of not issuing explanations in emergency cases on its “shadow docket.”
Democrats want to pass the For The People Act. This comprehensive legislation would prohibit partisan gerrymandering and set minimum requirements for early voting. It also requires automatic, same-day, and online voter registration. Both measures are necessary to protect voting rights according to experts, but Democrats have not yet revealed a way to bypass the filibuster.