Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a much-anticipated pivot in their drive to protect voting rights, introducing legislation that would make it easier for the federal government to block state election rules that discriminate against non-white voters.
House leaders expect to pass the bill, dubbed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act after the late civil rights icon, at a rare August session next week. They say it would restore the full force of the 1965 Voting Rights Act after a few unfavorable Supreme Court rulings and help fight a wave of restrictive new electoral laws in Republican-led states.
“Today, old battles have become new again as we face the most pernicious attack on voting rights in generations,” said Representative Terri Sewell, the bill’s lead author and a Democrat from Alabama’s civil rights belt, where Mr. Lewis and others staged a national campaign for voting rights in the 1960s. “Clearly, federal oversight is urgently needed.”
But like other voting rights legislation due before Congress this year, the chances of making it to the evenly divided Senate are extremely slim. Only one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is likely to support the legislation, leaving Democrats well behind the 60 votes they need to break through a Republican filibuster and send the bill to President Biden’s desk.
Senate Republicans blocked all of the other Democrats’ voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would establish national mandates for early and mail-in voting and end the gerrymandering of congressional districts. And while Democratic leaders in the Senate promised more votes on the issue in September, they are on track for an identical result unless all 50 Democrats unite in an effort to change Senate filibuster rules.
The legislation introduced Tuesday by Ms. Sewell is an attempt to restore key parts of the historic 1965 ballot paper that has been scrapped or weakened by the Supreme Court over the past decade. According to proponents, this would make it much more difficult for states to restrict access to votes in the future.
The most sweeping ruling dates back to 2013, when the judges effectively invalidated a portion of the law that required states and places with a history of discriminatory voting rules to approve any changes to their electoral policies with the federal government. At the time, the judges said the formula used to determine which states to approve was outdated and invited Congress to update it.
The bill also seeks to respond to a decision last month in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee that actually made it more difficult to challenge the state’s voting laws as discriminatory in court using another provision of the law.
Voting rights activists fear the two decisions will make it much easier for those in power to marginalize voters of color at the polls and during the 10-year reclassification process underway this year. This year, more than a dozen Republican-led states have enacted restrictive new voting laws.
“We’ve seen an increase in changes in voting laws that make it harder for minority citizens to vote and that’s before we even face a round of ten-year reclassification where jurisdictions can draw new maps that have the purpose or effect of diluting or diluting minorities or to go backwards. voting power,” Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, told a House panel on Monday.
Republicans rallied in droves with Democrats not to pass the full Voting Rights Act again until 2006. But since the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013, they have shown little interest in updating the statute, arguing that discrimination is largely a thing of the past and that federal government should stand outside the right of states to make their own electoral rules. to establish.
Asked about the bill on Tuesday, Russell Dye, a spokesman for Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, accused Democrats of ignoring “real problems” such as the crisis in Afghanistan, the influx of migrants to the southern border and rising crime “in favor of pushing a radical far-left political agenda.”