Today, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) reintroduced the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015. The legislation aims to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law, which was first enacted 50 years ago.
Reps. Conyers and Sensenbrenner reintroduced the legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision which struck down Section 4b, the core provision in the Voting Rights Act that determines how states are covered under Section 5 of the Act (which requires federal preclearance of voting changes by covered jurisdictions to protect against discriminatory voting measures). The bill updates the coverage formula by making all states and jurisdictions eligible for coverage formula based on voting violations in the last 15 years.
“The Voting Rights Act was designed to eliminate evolving legal barriers to the voting booth and to give minority voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the Section 4b formula for coverage under Section 5 is a critical blow to its future relevancy and will make it more difficult to challenge existing barriers” said Rep. Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus who cosponsored the original Voting Rights Act in 1965. “I have witnessed firsthand the stain that discrimination has placed on our democracy. Though the Shelby County v. Holder decision struck at the heart of the Act, today, it is with much pride that my colleagues and I are reintroducing a renewed Voting Rights Amendment Act to reaffirm our constitutional commitment to protecting the right to vote.”
“The VRA is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed. Combating both discrimination and fraud is essential to ensuring Americans’ right to vote is protected. Our legitimacy as elected officials relies on the integrity of the ballot box. I urge my colleagues to support the VRAA because it is vital to our commitment to never again allow racial prejudices in the electoral process,” said Rep. Sensenbrenner.
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August of 1965, and it has been reauthorized four times since. President George W. Bush signed the most recent reauthorization into law in 2006, after the House voted 390-33 and the Senate 98-0 in favor of the legislation.
Key provisions in the bill include:
• Through a coverage provision based on current conditions, the bill establishes a rolling nationwide trigger that covers states or jurisdictions that have a persistent record of recent voting rights violations over the last 15 years.
• Allows our federal courts to bail-in the worst actors for preclearance. The current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for intentional violations, but the new legislation amends the Act to allow states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for results-based violations.
• Greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of changes. The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.
• Allows for preliminary relief to be obtained more readily, given that voting rights cannot often be vindicated after an election is already over.
Additional original co-sponsors of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 include: Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Charles Dent (R-PA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Lewis (D-GA), Christopher Gibson (R-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee ( D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Hank Johnson (D -GA), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Judy Chu (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Scott Peters (D-CA).