Democrats demand action on voting rights bill- USA Today
WASHINGTON — Democrats and civil rights groups are calling on Congress to act on legislation to restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court eliminated three years ago.
“We cannot allow our voices to be silenced and we must do whatever it takes to exercise our right to vote,’’ Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Saturday.
Saturday marked the third anniversary of a Supreme Court decision — Shelby County v. Holder — that threw out a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that determined which states and other jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination had to obtain "pre-clearance" from federal officials before making any election changes.
Most of the states were in the South, including Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
This will be the first presidential election without the provision.
Since the Supreme Court decision, several states have adopted new election laws, including voter ID requirements. Proponents say the laws help protect against voter fraud.
Congressional Republicans say the "pre-clearance'' provision is no longer needed.
“What was struck down were the provisions that absurdly treated the South differently,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky recently told USA TODAY. “They don’t apply anymore. It’s 50 years later.”
Civil rights groups argue the provision is needed more than ever and that many of the new election laws, particularly voter ID rules, are restrictive and aim to diminish turnout of minority voters, including Latinos and blacks.
“Make no mistake, the Shelby County decision was an attack on the Latino community, and the only way our community can stop these constant attacks is to raise our voices, to participate and most importantly to vote,’’ Sanchez said.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said "new and resurgent forms of voter discrimination have been rampant since the Voting Rights Act was gutted three years ago,”
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the Shelby decision “reversed 50 years of progress’’ in expanding voting rights.
“We continue to witness challenges, discrimination, voter suppression and disenfranchisement, extraordinary measures that have severely diminished the right to vote and make it increasingly difficult, if not burdensome, for low-income, elderly, and African-American voters,’’ he said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the court decision has also played a part in the political re-segregation of the South, with the election of fewer white Democrats and black voters being packed into majority-black districts.
“You can vote, but you’re gerrymandered into a minority position,” Jackson said. “And the South, which is most in need of affordable health care, is disenfranchised.”
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., has proposed a bill that would restore the provision. It would require federal screening of elections in states with at least 15 voting rights violations — or at least 10 local violations and one statewide violation — over the last 25 years.
Under that criteria, 13 states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — would qualify immediately.
“If we’re not ever-vigilant in our fight to keep this country true to its ideals of democracy and equality for all, they will roll back,” Sewell said.
The measure, however, faces an uphill challenge in the Republican-controlled House.
Key Republican lawmakers have said the Voting Rights Act has strong provisions to protect against voter discrimination. Republican leaders have not said when, or if, they will hold a hearing or allow a vote on the measure.
Barbara Arnwine, president and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, said that since the court decision voters in several states have faced new hurdles.
“We’ve seen the devastation in the primaries and we’ll see more problems if we don’t fix the Voting Rights Act before the general election,” she said.