Congress Introduces Bill to Update 1965 Voting Rights Act

Demonstrators picket in favor of equal voting rights outside the GOP convention hall in Chicago in July 1960. Photo by Francis Miller/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

When the Supreme Court overturned critical portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in June of last year, it kicked the responsibility of replacement legislation to one of the least-productive Congresses in recent history.

Six months later, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are introducing a bill that would help patch the hole left in the election law when the Supreme Court threw out the formula that the federal government used to oversee voter law changes in states with a history of discrimination.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would give the federal government power to pre-approve election changes in states with five or more voting rights violations in the last 15 years. It would also require states to give wider public notice of voting law changes.

The proposed bill, which is sponsored by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Coons (D-DE), has been met with praise by some voting rights advocacy groups.

“This common-sense measure is an important first step to reaffirm the right to vote for all citizens and strengthen the protection of that right,” said National Urban League President Marc H. Morial. “Further, it underscores the responsibility of elected officials to ensure, promote and support free and fair elections.”

The law does say that states can implement “reasonable” voter ID laws, which have been passed by Republican state legislatures recently to address alleged voter fraud. The laws have been shown to disenfranchise thousands of minority and elderly voters.

“Participation in our democracy should be unfettered and all votes should be properly counted,” the NAACP said in a statement. “From the exceptions for voter ID laws to decreased preclearance coverage to increased reliance on costly litigation, there are essential revisions and amendments to this bill that must take place to ensure all voters have fair and equitable access to the ballot box.”

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