06 February 2014

Tell Congress to Strengthen, Support & Pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act! & New voting rights bill is designed to straighten out part of the mess the Supreme Court made5FEB&16JAN14

BIPARTISAN legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the wake of last year's Supreme Court decision (see BIPARTISAN PLAN TO RESTORE MOST OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT! 24JAN14  ). Yet again, there is a right wing fanatical group of repiglicans and tea-baggers trying to stop the restoration of voting rights to all Americans because the rich, their corporate masters who bought their political offices are intent in taking away our civil liberties. We must not let them win this important fight, must not let them weaken our rights as guaranteed in the US Constitution. Please click the link to send your Representative a message telling them to support the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. 

Tea Party governors and Republican legislators across the country are racing to steal the 2014 elections. But starting today, MoveOn members are fighting back—by launching the new, national Defend the Vote campaign. 
To kick off the campaign, MoveOn members and progressive allies are working to improve and pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. That's why Heather McGhee of the organization Demos started a petition to Congress, which says:
Congress is taking up a critical new bill to strengthen voting rights. Contact your legislators and tell them to enhance, co-sponsor, and vote YES on the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014!
Last year, the Supreme Court gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965—eliminating the protections that millions of people of color, elderly and young voters, and the poor have depended on in states with the worst history of voting rights abuses.1
Since then, Tea Party-controlled legislatures have led an assault on voting by introducing new voter suppression laws, such as limiting poll hours and shortening voter registration periods.
But now, there's a chance to stop that. On January 16, 2014, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced new bipartisan legislation—the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014—that would strengthen the Voting Rights Act.This bill would fix the provision the Supreme Court struck down last spring. It isn't perfect, but it's the best vehicle we have to modernize and strengthen voter protections nationwide.2
Fighting voter suppression is going to require MoveOn members across the country to work together, which is why we're launching our Defend the Vote campaign today. Passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act is a critical first step in this campaign, and MoveOn members are already working district by district around the country to organize and to pressure their members of Congress to support this critical legislation.
Some extreme right-wingers are looking to kill any chances of this bill's even coming up for debate.3 The best way to prevent that is to get as much visible support as possible early on and show that even in a broken Washington, D.C., people's voting rights shouldn't be up for debate. 
Thanks for all you do.
–Milan, Heidi, Manny, Maria, and the rest of the team
1. "Everything That's Happened Since Supreme Court Ruled on Voting Rights Act," ProPublica, November 1, 2013
2. "Members of Congress Introduce a New Fix for the Voting Rights Act," The Nation, January 16, 2014
3. "GOP's next moral disgrace?: How right-wing crazies may kill a voting rights fix," Salon, January 17, 2014
Want to support our work? MoveOn Civic Action is entirely funded by our 8 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.

Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 04:23 PM EST

New voting rights bill is designed to straighten out part of the mess the Supreme Court made

Two representatives and a senator introduced legislation Thursday to repair some of the damage the Supreme Court delivered to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its ruling last June. Though not as strong as it ought to be, if passed the bill would restore the federal government's authority to "pre-clear" changes in voting procedures in a few of the nine states that were covered before the Court shredded the VRA's key enforcement provision in its Shelby County v. Holder ruling. The legislation, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, was introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, with an identical bill introduced in the Senate by Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Leahy said:
Through months of negotiation and compromise, Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers and I have agreed on a bipartisan and bicameral proposal to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were weakened by the Supreme Court's decision last summer. Our sole focus throughout this entire process was to ensure that no American would be denied his or her constitutional right to vote because of discrimination on the basis of race or color. We believe that this is a strong bipartisan bill that accomplishes this goal and that every member of Congress can support.
As with any bill supported by Democrats, the question is whether the bill will be able to make it through the Republican-controlled House. And then there's the question of whether the Supreme Court will object on the same grounds as it did in Shelby, a ruling which, as Ian Millhiser has written, contained language saying "any preclearance formula is unconstitutional unless it is limited to states engaged in the kind of ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965.” Although the bill is being touted as bipartisan and has attracted the support of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, there is some question about how many Republicans it will ultimately attract. Sensenbrenner, a long-time backer of the VRA, is looked at skeptically by conservatives in his own party because he has broken ranks on some votes. There is also fear on the GOP side of the aisle that Democrats might use a revamped VRA for election advantages this year.
Some on the left are critical because the legislation is weaker than what they want. But Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who literally risked his life in the 1960s to defeat Jim Crow laws that kept African Americans from voting, said Wednesday: "It's not all that we want. It's not a perfect bill. But it's a good bill."
Read more about the bill below the fold.
The American Civil Liberties Union agreed:
"While not perfect, today’s bill successfully answers Chief Justice Roberts’ invitation to Congress in Shelby to modernize the Voting Rights Act," said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU senior legislative counsel. "The bill includes commonsense updates to a law that has protected the fundamental right to vote for American citizens for nearly 50 years. While it does not fix everything that was lost in Shelby, we are pleased to see a bipartisan bill that contains a set of protections that are flexible, forward-looking, and written to capture recent discrimination and stop discriminatory changes before elections take place. We will continue to work for improvements in the bill and urge Congress to pass the bill swiftly. Congress must do all in its power to ensure that Americans are treated fairly at the ballot box."

The Voting Rights Amendment Act is, in fact, the best chance for a fix in the immediate future. But if it does pass, the fix will need a fix when the balance of power in Congress has shifted. At The Nation, Ari Berman, who has written extensively about voting suppression and the successful effort to gut the Voting Rights Act has the rundown on the specifics.
The Court wrecked the VRA by overturning Section 4, which set forth the nine states and parts of others with a history of voter discrimination that would not be allowed to make changes in voting procedures without first getting them "pre-cleared" under Section 5. Without Section 4, Section 5 became a dead letter.
The nine states were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota were also covered. Here's my condensed version of Berman's take:
• A new coverage formula has been written for Section 4 that revives Section 5. Any state that has violated federal law with voting changes during the past 15 years must get future changes pre-cleared. That would cover Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Local jurisdictions that commit three or more violations or one violation with “persistent, extremely low minority turnout” during the past 15 years would also be covered. The law includes a "rolling calendar" that updates the past 15 years so that states with no new violations will eventually be exempt from pre-clearance. Unlike under the old formula, this one is based not on geography but on behavior.
• The bill not only does not cover Alabama and other mostly Southern states that sparked the original Voting Rights Act, and it doesn't apply to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have enacted new voting restrictions. Moreover, voter ID laws are treated less stringently and will not be counted among the five violations that can keep a state covered. Berman notes that this "exemption for voter ID laws was written to win the support of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans."
• Section 3 of the VRA is strengthened. Under that section, states or parts of states not covered by Section 4 could be “bailed-in” to federal oversight. To do so, however, plaintiffs had to leap a high bar—showing intentional voting discrimination. The new proposal allows for bail-ins regardless of whether the discrimination was intentional or not.
• The legislation requires authorities nationwide to provide advance notice of any changed election procedures regarding redistricting, changes made 120 days before a federal election and the moving of a polling place. "This will make it easier for citizens to identify potentially harmful voting changes in the 46 states not subject to Sections 4 and 5."
• Preliminary injunctions against voting laws that are seen as possibly discriminatory voting law will be easier to obtain. "Plaintiffs will now only have to show that the hardship to them outweighs the hardship to the state if a law is blocked in court pending a full trial."
• The attorney general will still be authorized to send federal observers to monitor elections in states covered by Section 4 and to jurisdictions that have in the past discriminated against groups who do not speak English. That covers parts of 25 states.
The language coverage in the bill is not seen as good enough by the ACLU and by many minority groups. Billy House writes:
The emerging disagreement between some minority groups is whether Democrats should push for additional language to incorporate what is known as a "known practices" coverage formula for federal approval, a broader approach than used in the past.   Endorsed by Latino, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, and Native American organizations, the mechanism would tie federal oversight not just to certain geographical areas and past practices, but to particular practices wherever they occur. That would cover more of the nation's most rapidly growing racial-, ethnic-, and language-minority communities.
House reports that African Americans in Congress tend to be supportive of the bill as is and are concerned that any move to stiffen it could reduce the number of Republicans who back it.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 04:23 PM EST.

Also republished by Daily Kos