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Congress introduces Voting Rights Amendment Act

Information courtesy of NBCNews.com, Washingtonpost.com, the Yale Law Journal, Sensenbrenner.House.gov, and Slate.com

Earlier this week, both houses of Congress introduced The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (S. 1945 / H.R. 3899). The new bill is designed to restore federal oversights of the election process established by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These controls were weakened last June, when the Supreme Court declared Section 4 of VRA 1965 unconstitutional.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to prevent minority voters from being disenfranchised by discriminatory laws like poll taxes and literacy tests, and more flagrant violations of Constitutional voting rights. The law allows the federal government to challenge state and local voting laws that could lead to disenfranchisement.

Section 5 of the law requires that some state or local governments get permission from the federal government before they make changes to their voting laws. Which specific governments have to get permission is determined by two other sections in the law.

Section 3 requires governments to get permission when judges find discrimination in their voting process. Section 4 required governments to get permission when they had a history of past voting discrimination. Based on past voting discrimination against minority voters, this requirement applied to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. However, these historical tests in Section 4 were struck down by the Supreme Court.

When VRA 1965 was originally passed, the preclearance (permission) requirements would have expired in five years. However, VRA 1965 was reauthorized numerous times. In 2006, VRA 1965 was reauthorized for another twenty-five years, meaning several states would be required to have federal oversight of their voting laws based on discrimination that had happened over 60 years earlier.

In the Supreme Court ruling, the Court noted that VRA 1965 “imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.” Also, the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution grants states “all powers not specifically granted to the Federal Government, including the power to regulate elections. …The Voting Rights Act sharply departs from these basic principles. It requires States to beseech the Federal Government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have the right to enact”.

Furthermore, “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. …Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels. …The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years.” And so, the Court declared that the historical tests were no longer sufficient to justify requiring federal oversight over state and local voting laws, making Section 4 unconstitutional.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would make several changes to VRA 1965, attempting to address the Court’s objections:

  • Instead of using historical tests based on the 1960s and 1970s, the historical tests would have to have happened “in the most recent 15 year period”. After the most recent case of voting discrimination, the state or local government would continue to have federal oversight of its voting laws for the next ten years.

 

  • A voting rights violation would include:
  • A final judgment from a court that the state or local government violated the 14th or 15th Amendment of the US Constitution
  • A final judgment from a court that the state or local government violated federal voting law
  • A judgment from a court or the Attorney General that the state or local government violated other sections of VRA 1965

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would add a new section to VRA 1965 requiring that state and local governments be transparent and open about changes to their voting laws, including:

  • Changes to voting standards or procedures enacted 180 days before a federal election
  • Voting resources involving federal elections, such as information about precincts, polling places, voting machines, and poll workers
  • Redistricting and other changes in districts involving federal, state, and local elections

Instead of nine states and parts of six being required to get federal approval of voting law changes, at first, only four states, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, will be required to get approval. Significantly, the bill states that passing voter ID laws, one of the most controversial voting issues of recent years, will not make state or local governments subject to Section 4.

You can read the full text of the bill here. If this issue is important to you, you may wish to contact your representatives with your opinion. You can find contact information here: http://fifthfreedom.org/findreps/ .

Doug Schmidt
Act Team Coordinator
The Fifth Freedom Network

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Fifth Freedom is a not-for-profit organization that strives at all times to be non-partisan. The content of this post is provided for information purposes only, and does not express or imply support for any particular political party, politician, candidate for office, or piece of legislation.