What is the Voting Rights Amendment Act? And do we need it?
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act. Today is also the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, which struck large parts of the Voting Rights Act down. Here’s a brief recap:
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 as a way to protect minorities from widespread disenfranchisement. A key provision of the law requires certain states with past histories of voting discrimination to clear new changes in their election laws with the Department of Justice before they can go into effect. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court ruled that the formula for determining which states must pre-clear their laws is unconstitutional, and could only rely on recent rather than historical discrimination data.
Since then, there has been no formula in place, so no state or municipality has had to get their voting law changes approved by the DOJ. But disenfranchisement of minority voters is still happening, and that evidence is suggestive that voter ID laws specifically target people of color. With no approval required by the DOJ, new laws requiring ID have been enacted in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, with Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and North Carolina also cutting back on early voting opportunities.
To counter harmful voting laws and restore the Voting Rights Act, Congressional Republicans and Democrats have introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act, creating a new formula that relies on recent data that suggests discrimination. But despite the ostensible bipartisan support, groups on both sides of the debate remain unconvinced. The conservative-led House Judiciary Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the bill, and certain civil rights groups argue the bill does not go far enough to fight discrimination.
As the 2014 election approaches, time is running out. If the bill isn’t passed before November it will have to be re-introduced next year and go through the hearing process all over again…