Voting Rights Act (VRA)
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has been called the most successful piece of civil rights legislation in American history. It was enacted at the height of the civil rights movement after voting rights activists were brutally attacked by state troopers in Selma, Alabama while attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the VRA into law on August 6, 1965. The VRA prohibits racial discrimination in voting and has been amended and reauthorized by Congress on a bipartisan basis in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992 and, most recently, in 2006.
In June 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated a key component of the Voting Rights Act—the coverage formula by which certain states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination were required to preclear election changes with the Department of Justice. In that decision, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged the persistence of voter discrimination and challenged Congress to come up with a new coverage formula to protect against it.
H.R. 885, THE VOTING RIGHTS AMENDMENT ACT
Representatives Sensenbrenner, Conyers and Lewis introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act (Amendment Act) in January 2014. The Amendment Act is a bipartisan, compromise bill that would restore preclearance for some jurisdictions in a manner consistent with the Shelby County decision through a fifteen year “rolling” coverage formula that applies nationwide. Upon enactment, the Amendment Act formula would cover Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.
The bill also expands Section 3 “bail in” by the courts so that it applies to voting changes that result in discrimination (not just intentional discrimination), requires nationwide transparency of “late breaking” voting changes and expands the grounds by which a preliminary injunction against voting discrimination may be granted. In order to gain Republican support, a provision to exclude voter identification laws from counting toward the coverage formula violation tally is also included in the bill.
More than 165 House Democrats cosponsored the Amendment Act in the 113th Congress. The bill was reintroduced on February 11, 2015 and currently has 73 cosponsors – 63 Democrats & 10 Republicans. For more information or to become a cosponsor, please contact Keenan Keller in Ranking Member Conyers’ Judiciary Committee office.
H.R. 2867, THE VOTING RIGHTS ADVANCEMENT ACT
In the absence of a Republican Senate sponsor for the Voting Rights Amendment Act (described above), Senator Leahy and Representatives Sewell, Sánchez, Linda T., Chu and Lewis introduced a more progressive alternative, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (Advancement Act) on June 24, 2015. The Advancement Act would restore preclearance through a twenty-five year “rolling” coverage formula. Upon enactment, the Advancement Act formula would cover Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, New York and Virginia.
The bill includes the same Section 3 expansion and nationwide transparency requirements outlined above, but also requires nationwide preclearance for so-called “known practices” (such as changes in the method of election, changes to voting or voter registration requirements (including proof of identity), reductions in language assistance, and changes that reduce, consolidate or relocate voting locations) and includes a number of Native American & Alaska Native voting rights provisions to ensure ballot translation, DOJ consultation and equal opportunities to register to vote.
The Advancement Act currently has 88 Democratic cosponsors in the House. For more information or to become a cosponsor, please contact Cachavious English in Representative Terri Sewell’s office.
H.R. 12, THE VOTER EMPOWERMENT ACT
The Voter Empowerment Act (VEA) is the most comprehensive legislative proposal to update and improve our nation’s voting systems. It will increase access to the ballot box, protect the integrity of our elections and ensure accountability. The VEA was first introduced in May 2012 by Representatives Lewis, Clyburn, Hoyer, Brady and Conyers.
Key provisions of the VEA include: modernizing our voter registration system; allowing online voter registration; requiring fifteen consecutive days of early voting in every state; assisting voters with disabilities; ensuring the equitable distribution of polling place resources; and prohibiting voter caging and other deceptive practices that deter people from exercising their constitutional right to vote.
The VEA was reintroduced in March 2015 and currently has 179 Democratic cosponsors in the House.
Key Dates in the US Voting Rights