|Elderly and minority voters are among the targets of new voting restriction laws passing state legislatures throughout the country.|
Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. It gave the federal government the power to ensure that all citizens could vote and prohibited states with a history of discrimination from changing voting procedures without federal permission.
As recently as 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize key provisions of the VRA for another 25 years. The legislation passed 390-33 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Every top Republican supported the bill.
In 2013, just seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a conservative challenge to Section 5 of the VRA. The high court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder effectively removed a key part of the law which compels parts or all of 16 states with a history of voter discrimination to clear election-related changes with the federal government.
Since then, numerous states, mostly in the South, have passed laws making it more difficult for minorities, the elderly and young people to vote. Some of North Carolina’s voting restrictions affect twice as many black voters as white.
Now, Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to update and fix the landmark law that was gutted by the Supreme Court two years ago.
The “Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015” would compel any state with 15 or more voting rights violations in the last 25 years to be subject to federal preclearance for any change in voting procedure or law.
“It’s important to fix a decision of the United States Supreme Court and make it easier, make it simple, for all of our people to participate in a democratic process,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a co-sponsor of the bill. “Open it up and let people come in. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do it before the next election. We cannot have the long lines, we cannot have the ID’s, and we’ve got to do it.”
Key to any Voting Rights Act fix, however, will be gaining the support of congressional Republicans, who control both the House and the Senate.