WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) reintroduced the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017 (VRAA), which would fully restore and modernize the original Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to reflect today’s societal needs and challenges.
One of the VRA’s core protections is its preclearance system, which previously required states with a documented history of discrimination to allow the federal government to review changes to voting laws and practices before they were implemented. This provision was struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder, where the court held that while preclearance is constitutional; it is unconstitutional to apply it to states based on the 1965 formula.
Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017 in response to this ruling. The VRAA would make all states and jurisdictions eligible for coverage formula based on voting violations in the last 15 years. Key elements of the legislation include:
- Applies equally to every state in the country and only applies if a state has a documented history of discrimination.
- States would only be subject to preclearance if they have committed five voting violations in the last 15 years.
- Provides greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of any changes to polling times, dates, locations, and protocols. 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.
Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Every American – no matter the color of their skin – needs to know that we understand their right to vote is sacred. That is why reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act is so important. I’m confident that congressional leaders of both parties can come together in support of this modernized legislation and show their unfailing commitment to protecting that right.”
Congressman Conyers: “As 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. The right to vote is the foundation of all other rights and the Voting Rights Act was critical to ensuring equal access to the ballot box for all Americans. In the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision, some states immediately worked to roll back the progress that has been made. Congress has a long history of protecting and expanding access to the ballot box and it should continue to build on that legacy by fully restoring and enhancing the Voting Rights Act.”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.