Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 8, 2016

Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Voting Rights Act Fix (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Conyers, above, Sensenbrenner and Leahy brokered a legislative fix to the Voting Rights Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:16 p.m. | Several months after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a legislative fix.

Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., brokered the legislation, aimed at restoring federal “preclearance” of voting laws in states with a history of racial discrimination.

The Supreme Court struck down the current formula in a landmark ruling last summer and challenged Congress to revise it for the 21st century through legislation.

“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,” Leahy said in a statement.

Sensenbrenner said the bill “includes strong, nationwide anti-discrimination protections and continues to permit states to enact reasonable voter ID laws. Therefore, it prevents racial discrimination and gives states the ability to address voter fraud.”

The proposal would require oversight for states where there have been five voting violations in the most recent 15-year period, and if at least one of those violations is committed by the state itself. Once a preclearance requirement is determined, it would stay in place for a 10-year period unless they receive a “bail-out.”

Also, the law now only allows states to be “bailed-in” to the preclearance system when there is proof of intentional violation; new language would allow courts to subject states to federal supervision for any voting discrimination, intentional or otherwise.

It also would create a new section of the Voting Rights Act requiring states to make voters aware of election law changes in their jurisdictions, a change the sponsors hope “will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.”

It’s not immediately clear which states would trigger preclearance under the new law.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made a passing reference to developments on the VRA front at a news conference earlier in the day.

“I want to say that I’m pleased with what I see as bipartisan progress — and that’s a good thing — that’s being made on addressing the Voting Rights Act, and I think we’re going to be hearing an announcement on that later today,” Pelosi said. “I’m not here to announce it, but I’m here to say what’s occurred in briefings and meetings we’ve had. While it’s not the bill everyone will love, it is bipartisan, it is progress and it is worthy of support.”

“We’re hopeful that we can move in a good way,” Conyers said. “We need to have hearings immediately, as soon as we can. That’s the best sign of good faith and bipartisanship.”

The effort does not yet have full buy-in from Republican leadership, said a senior GOP aide. Leaders are wary of pushback from conservative members and are skeptical that the bill could attract the support of a majority of the Republican Conference. They are also concerned that Democrats would politicize the issue to make gains in the 2014 midterm elections.

Furthermore, Sensenbrenner, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee and an author of the last extension of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, has occasionally voted against leaders’ priorities, most recently casting a “no” vote on the omnibus appropriations bill. That has damaged his clout with leaders, the aide said.

Conyers suggested the fate of the new VRA legislation is in the hands of the House Judiciary panel’s current chairman, Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va.

“I haven’t raised it directly with him yet so I can’t say” whether he would support the effort, Conyers conceded, “but the question may come down to whether we want to do it in parts. … I’m not sure how this is going to play out.”

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, said she had just received the full text of the bill Thursday, but based on discussions with members, she is generally supportive.

“I’m hopeful that it is going to be something that we can all get behind. I’m sure it is not going to be what I’d like it to be, but it’s a good step in the right direction, as far as what I’ve been told,” she said.

Under the bill, the attorney general would continue, in the new bill, to have authority to request that federal observers will be on the ground in states that are under preclearance. And in a nod to Republican concerns, it would include provisions to allow states to enact “reasonable” photo identification laws.

On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down the part of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that required a number of states with a history of racial discrimination to get formal clearance before they could change their voting rules and regulations.

The court suggested that Congress rewrite the preclearance formula for the 21st century to better reflect the progress certain states have made since the Voting Rights Act was first passed, a premise Democrats have embraced along with some Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

  • truthseeker53

    Has it got numbered yet? Unidentifiable uninformed voters should by all means necessary be encouraged to vote early and often. That is how we “progress” after all.

    • Kenneth J. Hicks

      Voters need only be “identifiable” prior to casting their ballot and they are. The notion that people can vote “often” is pure fallacy. As for “uninformed” that isn’t nor should it be a requirement for participating in the process. One of the reasons for the Voting Rights Act was because certain voters were required to “prove” they understood the process.

      What would be your requirement to show someone is informed? Advanced degree? High school? Knowing where each candidate stands on a laundry list of issues? Who should develop the requirements? Would every voter have to pass a test just before voting? Or would it be based on a district’s average education level? Income level? Why not remove citizenship as guaranteeing a right to vote and limit it only to people with at least a Master’s degree and income of at least $100,000/year?

      • Tom

        I’ve already thought long and hard about this issue. I think a good system would be to allow voting at the age of 16 for county wide elections; 18 you can vote in state elections; 20 you can vote for your US Congressman, 22 you can vote for your Senator, and at 25 you can vote in presidential elections.

        I believe a system like this would give voters time to learn about each level of government and have ample time to learn the issues from local to state and finally federal levels. There would be no discrimination based on education or income levels but at the same time it would force a structured system of education on all those who want to participate in our government.

      • truthseeker53

        Anybody who don’t even know who their elected officials are isn’t knowledgeable/concerned enough to cast an intelligent vote. Ignorant folk voting on surface appearance, blind emotion or for who bought the most media is why we’re in the mess we’re in.

    • johnblack45john

      Vote often? You heard this on Fox News right?

      • truthseeker53

        Did Fox air it? Bunch of other folks did. The alphabet MSMs prob didn’t.

        • johnblack45john

          Name some of these other folks. Go ahead. This ought to be good.

          • truthseeker53

            Startpage search “woman votes multiple times”. Prob be on any engine, I use them and Ixquick ’cause they don’t give my IP.

          • johnblack45john

            Even if this were true one isolated incident where a person did this and was tried and convicted is a reason for all of these harsh laws?

          • truthseeker53

            Harsh? Ha. Oh me. I’m going to bed.

  • BarryBarry

    Trade. Pass a nation wide Voter ID requirement before you let the feds enable cheating again.

    • Kenneth J. Hicks

      Voter ID is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

    • hippie1367

      GOPer cheating = legally entitled voters actually voting.
      Even the GOPer Sec of States n Kansas, OH, NC couldn’t find any fraud

    • johnblack45john

      Why do you neo cons love trying to solve problems that don’t exist?

      • BarryBarry

        Easy and virtually undetectable.

        • johnblack45john

          One or two isolated incidents where even your own link shows that the people were prosecuted proves what? That there are laws already on the books to handle situations like this. There is bo proof of wide range voter fraud perio.

          • BarryBarry

            I’ll type Sllllooooweeer

            Easy and Undetectable.

          • johnblack45john

            Type as so as you want you still have NOTHING!

      • BarryBarry

        And, why are you afraid? Voter turn out has gone up in states with Voter ID.

        • johnblack45john

          Total BS.

          • BarryBarry

            Don’t be so hard on yourself.

          • johnblack45john

            Don’t you be so stupid

          • BarryBarry

            You have all the stupid reserved for yourself.

          • johnblack45john

            Nope. That be you you dumb f**k




    IF dog face is for it ??? IT’s gotta be real BAD for the country !!!

    • Kenneth J. Hicks

      If a comment is based on an insult it has no merit.

    • johnblack45john

      Who the hell is dogface?

  • Kenneth J. Hicks

    Any rewrite of the Voting Rights Act should cover all states, territories, commonwealths. No region is immune from bias.

    • MrSmith

      Yes, we are straining at gnats in some states and ignoring significant bias in others.

  • docb

    Where is the bipartisan?

    • bbinny

      Did you read the article?

  • hippie1367

    Let me guess – GOPers will agree to letting 3/5 of the black votes be counted

    • Shade

      How ignorant can you be?
      Do you even know why the 3/5th clause was put into effect?
      Of course you don’t.

      • hippie1367

        It was created so slaver scum could pretend they had real states and economies.

        • Shade

          Nice guess, but no, the amount of representatives per state is based on population, the founders didn’t want the states that were heavy in slave population gaining addition power in Congress because of it.
          It was the first step in ridding this country of slavery.

    • Tom

      “Black” votes?! They are African-American votes, hence you must be a racist.

  • pitch1934

    remember what the repugnant thug said in PA, “This new voting law will allow Mitt Romney to carry PA.” If the governments want to “phase in” voter ID laws, let them write laws that allow for a period in which it is virtually certain that anyone who wants an ID can get one. Hell, some people in PA (hardly a rural state) have to travel two or more hours to what would have been the nearest state agency where they could get an ID.

  • Rex

    There is no discrimination but yes we need to leave States alone in mandating proof of ID and U.S. Citizenship for every voter as it used to be the past.

  • TEDjosa

    why do republicans have to keep messing with the voting rights act we have aneed for it discrimination hasnt disappeared in texas mor rascism or bigotry its still with us and even worse hell nothings changed red necks live here and it isnt going
    to change

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