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July 01, 2015

Voting rights legislation introduced

A group of Senate and House Democrats introduced bills June 24 in response to recent state and local laws that they maintain suppress the voting rights of minorities, the elderly and youth.

The laws were passed after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), which struck down the formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that defined jurisdictions with a history of restricting voting rights. Those jurisdictions – all or part of 16 states − were required under Section 5 of the act to submit any proposed changes in their voting procedures for preclearance by the Department of Justice or a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

S. 1659 and H.R. 2867, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, would institute a new nationwide coverage formula that provides that a state or political subdivision would be subject to preclearance under Section 5 based on a finding of repeated voting rights violations in the preceding 25 years. A state or political subdivision would continue to be covered for 10 years unless a declaratory judgment is obtained under new “bail-out” provisions.

Voting changes that would be subject to preclearance include changes in the following areas: methods of election, multi-language voting materials, jurisdiction boundaries; documentation or qualifications required to vote, and reductions or relocations of voting locations.

A new section of the act also provides that voters must be made aware of late-breaking voting changes in federal elections, polling resources for federal elections and demographic and electoral date for voting district for federal, state and local elections.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a sponsor of the Senate bill, said the legislation is “a bill for the next generation, and helps protect the legacy of the previous generation who fought so hard five decades ago for these voting rights protections.”

The ABA adopted policy in 2013 urging Congress to enact legislation to address the “severe blow” the Supreme Court decision in Shelby had on voting rights. The association emphasized in an amicus brief to the court for that case that although litigation may be brought against jurisdictions under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, such litigation after a voting change is already in place is extremely complex and costly.

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