This article is written from a Democratic point of view.
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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House Democrats are working methodically to craft a new version of the Voting Rights Act that could survive any future challenge of the law at the Supreme Court, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
House Democrats are developing this new version of the Voting Rights Act–known as H.R. 4, The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019–with the desire to curb the outbreak and pattern of voter suppression which have plagued elections for the past several years, Pelosi said this week at a press conference to describe and call attention to the new legislation.
“It’s almost criminal what’s going on across the country – whether it’s vote opportunities for Native Americans in North Dakota … get out of Dodge in order to vote in Kansas, they moved the polling place out of town,” Pelosi said.
This new legislation would be the first reauthorization or amendment to the original Voting Rights Act since 2006.
The original Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, so as to enforce the voting rights guaranteed in the US Constitution to racial minorities–including African Americans–particularly in the South where voting discrimination had been most rampant.
In the following decades, Congress would revisit the Voting Rights Act five times, to further expand the protection it offers.
The law consists of several provisions, including Section 5, which requires certain state and local governments to obtain what is known as federal “preclearance” before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which provides a formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.
However, in the 2013 case Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4b, the preclearance coverage formula, saying that it was 40 years old and therefore a burden on affected jurisdictions. The court left Section 5 to stand but, without the coverage formula in Section 4b, Section 5 cannot be enforced.
Since the high court rendered its decision in Shelby, some 1,000 polling places were closed, purges of voter rolls, enactment of stringent voter ID laws and more, mostly undertaken by Republican officials. The net effect is that it has made voting more difficult, according to many critics.
That’s where the careful preparations of House Democrats come in, as to H.R. 4, their new version of the Voting Rights Act, according to Pelosi.
“The reason we didn’t just pass the Voting Rights Act, H.R. 4, the other day is because we are making sure we have hearings all over the country that our basis is ironclad as far as the courts are concerned because if you don’t want to have an openness is our electoral process, any excuse will do,” she said. “And we don’t want to give them any excuse not to uphold the next version.”
That includes congressional field hearings held outside of Washington DC in order to gather the information necessary.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) is leading that effort as chairwoman of the House Administration Committee’s elections subcommittee. The subcommittee held its first field hearing in Brownsville, Tex., where officials are purging voter rolls, Pelosi said.
“They just purged your name if you had a Hispanic surname,” Pelosi said. “It’s really, again, almost criminal what they are doing there, and we’ll have recourse there.”
Additional such hearings are expected, “going all around the country, as well in D.C., to make our basis for Title 4 – Title 4 of the Voting Rights Act is what the courts stripped – and so to make it ironclad,” Pelosi said.