Why We Need Stronger Voting Protections

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Just two weeks from tomorrow, Americans will head to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. But this year, accessing the ballot may be easier said than done.

In North Carolina, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month allowed some discriminatory voting changes – eliminating same-day registration and the counting of out-of-precinct ballots, in particular – to go into effect for this year’s elections.

That decision – and others being handed down in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 election – are a prime example of what voting rights look like in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder, which eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) by allowing states and localities with a history of voting discrimination to change their voting laws without prior approval by the federal government. It’s also why Congress’s first order of business when it comes back to Washington must be to restore the VRA.

On Saturday morning, the Court allowed Texas to implement a photo ID law despite a lower court ruling that the law is intentionally discriminatory, unconstitutional, and could prevent more than 600,000 Texas citizens from voting. In a span of nine days, the law was struck down by a federal district court judge, put back in place by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and then allowed by the Supreme Court on Saturday – but not without opposition along the way.

In striking down the law, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos equated it to an “unconstitutional poll tax.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed. In her dissent to Saturday’s decision – joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor – she said the law likely would impose an unconstitutional poll tax that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, and wrote that “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”

Everything may truly be bigger in Texas, including its voting discrimination efforts.

And while North Carolina and Texas stand out as particularly flagrant cases, they’re not anomalies. Back in April, MotherJones found that more than half of the states previously covered by Section 5 of the VRA had already passed or implemented voting restrictions in the aftermath of the Shelby decision – compared to less than 9 percent of other, non-covered states.

In June, the Brennan Center for Justice also documented the post-Shelby voting landscape, noting that, as successful as Section 5 was in actually blocking restrictive laws, it also acted as a strong deterrent against harmful changes. They also underscored how difficult, costly, and time-consuming it is to challenge discriminatory laws in the wake of Shelby through Section 2 lawsuits, rather than through the pre-Shelby, preclearance process.

But why are states trying to make voting more difficult? Donna Brazile wondered this recently in a piece for CNN, saying that voting should be as accessible as possible. “We shouldn’t require forms of ID that folks don’t have, we shouldn’t restrict days or hours that allow working people a chance to both do their job and exercise their democratic right, and we damn well shouldn’t be throwing up new obstacles midstream.”

Tomorrow is significant for another reason: It marks 20 years since the United States ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), an international human rights treaty aiming to – as the name suggests – protect people from racial discrimination, whether intentional or not. That includes racial discrimination in voting, which persists around the country still today.

The CERD Committee, a group of independent experts charged with monitoring the implementation of the treaty, met earlier this year in Geneva, Switzerland, and its concluding observations released in August expressed concern over the Shelby decision. The committee said it was “concerned at the obstacles faced by individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples to effectively exercise their right to vote,” and recommended the United States enforce a federal voting rights law that encourages voter participation and – in the wake of Shelby – enact nationwide protections against voting laws that have a discriminatory impact.

That opinion is shared by the editorial board of The New York Times, which recently wrote that “Instead of juicing the rules to minimize opponents’ turnout, the country’s leaders should adopt an automatic, universal voter registration system and remove absurd restrictions on which polling places individuals must attend. The current, cumbersome, two-step voting process promotes confusion and deters participation.”

Whether or not you agree with the CERD Committee, The New York Times, other prominent editorial boards, federal judges, Supreme Court justices, the Government Accountability Office, and other voices in the chorus questioning how confusion over voting laws will affect voter turnout – or wondering just how many voters in two weeks will be disenfranchised by laws targeting minority voters – it’s clear that voting rights in America are at their most fragile point in nearly a half century since the VRA was first enacted. Voters need stronger protections against the types of restrictive laws being passed across the country today.

Here’s what you can do:

  • If you’re able to, use your voice on November 4 and vote to demand accountability on voting rights.
  • If you need help registering, have questions about your polling place, or want to report problems with the election system, call the Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
  • Sign the petition calling on Congress to restore the VRA.
  • Join #RestoreVotingRights Day on Tuesday, October 21, by tweeting why you think it’s time for Congress to restore the right to vote.

Court Strikes Down Arkansas Voter ID Law

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The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s restrictive voter ID law in a unanimous decision on Wednesday, saying the state’s law requiring voters to provide photo ID is unconstitutional.

In their ruling, the judges wrote that the ID requirement is “in effect, nothing but a prohibition upon the right to vote as secured by the constitution.”

The high court noted that Arkansas’ constitution specifically enumerated requirements to vote: that a person be a citizen of both the United States and Arkansas, be at least 18 years old, and be lawfully registered to vote. The court ruled that anything beyond that amounts to a new requirement and is unconstitutional.

The court’s decision comes just days before early voting is set to begin in Arkansas, and follows last week’s slew of court rulings on restrictive voting laws in Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Without clear, federal voting protections, such last-minute rulings and changes to voting laws can confuse voters and discourage them from heading to the polls.

Major Editorial Boards Agree: Restrictive Voting Laws Hurt Democracy

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Following a week of court rulings on voting laws in several states, the editorial boards of two of the country’s most respected newspapers voiced their strong opposition to discriminatory voting laws – and chastised Republicans in particular for seeking to limit access to the polls.

Last weekend, the editorial boards of both The Washington Post and The New York Times expressed that the sole objective of voter ID laws is to suppress voter turnout.

The Washington Post editorial board said that while responsible politicians should be doing everything they can to get voters to the polls, Republican lawmakers are attempting to depress poor and minority voter turnout.

“Instead of juicing the rules to minimize opponents’ turnout, the country’s leaders should adopt an automatic, universal voter registration system and remove absurd restrictions on which polling places individuals must attend. The current, cumbersome, two-step voting process promotes confusion and deters participation. Republicans’ blatant efforts to depress turnout even more is a disgrace.”

When pushing for voting restrictions, many Republicans cite voter fraud and say that they are promoting electoral integrity. In reality, there is virtually no in-person voter fraud, and a recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that voter ID laws decreased voter turnout in Kansas and Tennessee in 2012 by more than 100,000 votes, disproportionately affecting young and African-American voters.

In its editorial, The New York Times wrote:

“Voter ID laws, as their supporters know, do only one thing very well: They keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls. In most cases, this means voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs.”

The New York Times urged the Supreme Court to protect voting rights, stating, “The next time voter ID laws reach the justices, they should see them for the antidemocratic sham they are.”

Voter ID Laws Blocked in Wisconsin and Texas, but Voting Restrictions Allowed in North Carolina

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On Thursday, October 9, court decisions prevented discriminatory voting practices from going into effect in Texas and Wisconsin less than one month before the midterm elections.

In Texas, a federal trial court struck down the state’s voter ID law, stating that the law put a disproportionate burden on minority voters.

In the court’s ruling, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said that the ID requirement “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” Gonzales Ramos also called the law an unconstitutional poll tax because it requires those without an ID to spend time and money to obtain one.

On the same day, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin from requiring photo identification before voting in the November election. The requirement was part of a highly controversial 2011 law that has been mostly blocked by various courts. A federal trial court previously blocked the law, stating that it would disproportionately deter Black and Hispanic voters, but the law was reinstated last month by a federal appeals court.

In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he was pleased with the Supreme Court’s Wisconsin decision, and also voiced his support for the ruling in Texas, saying, “We are extremely heartened by the court’s decision, which affirms our position that the Texas voter identification law unfairly and unnecessarily restricts access to the franchise.”

The Texas ID law was one of many voting restrictions passed by states following the Supreme Court’s destructive decision in Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013, effectively ended the requirement that states and localities with a history and contemporary record of voting discrimination have their election changes reviewed – or pre-cleared – by the federal government or a U.S. court. A recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that such recent changes in voting laws are behind decreased voter turnout in some states.

The day before these rulings, the Supreme Court allowed North Carolina’s discriminatory voting changes to go into effect for the midterm elections, eliminating same-day registration and the counting of out-of-precinct ballots. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor – said that the elimination of these election procedures “likely would not have survived federal preclearance.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, agreed with Ginsburg’s assessment. “This is real-time proof that voters need the kind of protections that the Voting Rights Act provided before the Shelby decision, Henderson said in a statement. “Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act as soon as possible before the gains of the last 40 years recede any further.”

In Alaska, A Step Toward Voting Accessibility

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A federal judge ruled in September that election officials in Alaska must translate election materials into the Yup’ik and Gwich’in languages to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The deadline for those translations to be completed is this Friday.

As NPR reported this week, this effort isn’t easy – but it’s an important one for the state’s 300 native Gwich’in speakers and 10,000 Yup’ik speakers. And it could provide a legal standard on the issue, according to Natalie Landreth, an attorney at the Native American Rights Fund. After the September decision was handed down, she told Reuters that this could help other groups – like Hispanics, Asians, and other native-language voters in the United States.

While U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that Alaska was in violation of Section 203 of the VRA, the state was also previously covered under the VRA’s preclearance provision struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. Now, Alaska has the freedom to change election laws without approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In response to that decision, Sen. Mark Begich, D. Alaska, said in a statement that “many Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans have faced challenges when it comes to voting, and still do today. As recently as two years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene in Alaska election procedures to protect this most basic right.”

Despite the Court’s majority opinion in Shelby saying that the VRA’s preclearance mechanism is no longer needed because of how successful it’s proven to be over the years, several reports released this year suggest that discrimination – particularly against minority voters – is still a problem. According to a June 2014 report by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, voting discrimination is a persistent challenge across the country – and Alaska is no exception.

Voting Rights Decisions Will Affect Access to Ballot in Ohio, North Carolina

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A month before Americans across the country vote in the midterm elections, a pair of rulings last week in Ohio and North Carolina will affect who may be able to cast a ballot in November.

Less than a day before early voting was set to begin in Ohio, a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on September 29 restricted voters’ access to the ballot by removing the first week of the state’s 35-day early voting period. The decision eliminated the only week in Ohio’s early voting period that allowed for same-day registration, which is most often used by minority voters. The Ohio legislation also eliminated voting on the Sunday before the election, a day heavily used by minority voters, who may not be able to take time off work to vote. It’s also the day when many churches in African-American communities lead Sunday “souls to the polls” voting efforts. In a video message on October 6, Attorney General Eric Holder said “It is a major step backward to allow these reductions to early voting to go into effect.”

By increasing voting flexibility, early voting periods address the systemic barriers that disproportionately prevent minority voters from getting to the polls. The ability to vote requires access to transportation, time to get to the polls, as well as additional costs like child care and transportation that are higher for minorities and low-income Americans. Minorities are also disproportionately represented in non-salaried jobs, which requires them to decide between voting or taking time off and losing part of a day’s pay. In Ohio, African Americans are also four times less likely than Whites to own a car, and twice as likely to be single parents.

Two days after the decision in Ohio, a federal appeals court partially blocked discriminatory election changes that would have denied many North Carolinians the right to cast ballots in the upcoming election. The state law in question had been enacted just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v. Holder last June – a time frame noted in the court’s decision:

Immediately after Shelby County, i.e., literally the next day, when “history” without the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements picked up where it left off in 1965, North Carolina rushed to pass House Bill 589, the “full bill” legislative leadership likely knew it could not have gotten past federal preclearance in the pre–Shelby County era.

The decision restored same-day registration and the ability for ballots cast out of precinct to be counted. “While that’s good news for North Carolina’s voters,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, “it is not a remedy for the millions of voters across the country who had their protections stripped by the Supreme Court last year.”

The decision in North Carolina is a prime example of the need to restore the VRA. “We call on Congress to do so without delay,” Henderson said.

Speaker Boehner’s Door Locked to VRA for Today Coalition’s Delivery of 500,000 Petition Signatures

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WASHINGTON – Today, a broad coalition of civil rights, labor, and progressive leaders launched the VRA for Today Coalition with a petition signed by more than 500,000 Americans who strongly support restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting all voters from discrimination. Before the announcement, advocates went to Speaker Boehner’s Longworth House Office Building office during normal business hours to deliver the names of the 500,000 petition signers but were met by a locked door.

Click here for video of the event. Click here for more footage. 

Click here for the petition.

With the Supreme Court’s misguided and destructive decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder, voters will head to the polls in November with the weakest protections against voting discrimination in half a century. Yet Congress has failed to act—despite having a bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act drafted and ready to be debated and moved forward.

The half a million Americans and leading organizations involved in the VRA for Today Coalition stand together in an ongoing fight to restore the Voting Rights Act, with support that will only continue to grow after today’s launch.

Below are quotes from the leaders of some organizations involved in the VRA for Today Coalition. To learn more, visit www.VRA4Today.org.

Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

“Today, the Speaker’s office was closed to voting rights. This is symbolic of how House Leadership has ignored voters who are being discriminated against right now. Since the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act was introduced in January, the House has not held a single hearing on the bill. We urge the Speaker and his leadership team to heed the voices of the petition signers and millions of other Americans. We will not tolerate a country that allows voters to be discriminated against based on their race.  We are standing up for the right to vote and calling on Congress to protect voters from discrimination.”

Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office 

“We urge Speaker Boehner to not let this be the first election in America in 50 years without robust protections for voters of color. That would be a shameful legacy as this Congress adjourns. Congress must pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act now.”

Samer Khalaf, President, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

“Racial discrimination in voting is a reality that merits an urgent response. It is time for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act and restore the important voter protections that were crippled by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder last year.

Every day that Congress fails to act, voters are in danger, and so is the most fundamental right in our democracy.  If the right to vote is threatened, the integrity of our entire democracy is also threatened. The time to act is now.  ADC calls on Congress to restore the VRA today.”

Mee Moua, President & Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

“Every day that Congress fails to act to address the Shelby decision, voters are vulnerable to discrimination. This is true especially for Asian Americans, the fastest growing racial group in the U.S. that is also rapidly growing in states and localities historically covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – states such as Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Over half a million people, including many Asian Americans, are demanding that Congress once again provides strong protections against voter discrimination by restoring the Voting Rights Act.  It’s time for Congress to act on the people’s will.”

Hadar Susskind, Director, Bend the Arc Jewish Action 

“American Jews, like many people of faith, believe that America can and should live up to the ideals of fairness, justice, and democracy implicit in its founding. This willful negligence by Congress is an insult to that legacy. Failing to protect the voting rights of millions of Americans is immoral. Bend the Arc members and other Jews across the country have signed this petition to demand that Congress fulfill its obligations and pass the VRAA.”

Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel, Washington, D.C. office of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

“The Voting Rights Act was a promise that no citizen would be denied the right to vote based on race. A generation later, our nation is in danger of reneging on that promise. Today, hundreds of thousands of Americans made clear that Congress must act to restore this key protection before the November election. It’s time to move on this bipartisan bill.”

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org

“The historic onslaught of attacks following the Shelby v. Holder decision in previously covered states demonstrates the clear need for immediate action by Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. With the election in November, politicians need to know that if they want our support, they must protect everyone’s freedom to vote and pass the VRAA.”

Miles Rapoport, President, Common Cause

“The right to vote is the foundation of American democracy. It must be upheld. For nearly 50 years, Americans relied on the Voting Rights Act to safeguard this precious right, particularly in states where voters of color traditionally faced barriers in exercising it. Now that the Supreme Court has tossed aside a critical section of the law, states across the country – not just those previously covered by the Act – are passing laws and adopting policies designed to erect new barriers and shut millions of our citizens out of the political process. In addition to being fundamentally un-American, this systematic exclusion from democratic participation contributes to Washington’s inability to address critical economic, social and environmental issues, among others. We must do better.  With the Voting Rights Amendment Act, drafted to comply with the Court’s mandate and endorsed by Democrats and Republicans alike, we can get back on track.  Common Cause urges Congress to pass this needed law and ensure that every American has fair access to the polls.  It’s the right thing to do.”

Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager, CREDO Action

“Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year, Republicans in states around the country have rushed to pass voter suppression laws in an attempt to steal elections. Congress should pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act now to restore one of our best tools for defending the right to vote.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

“Until the Voting Rights Amendment Act is passed and signed, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will continue its forward march toward ensuring that Congress continues its 50-year tradition of protecting the fundamental principle of our democracy.”

Arturo Vargas, Executive Director, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)

“Our democracy thrives when all its citizens are able to participate fully in the nation’s political system. We are proud to sign on to this petition of support and call on Congress to promote policies that make voting and registering to vote more accessible to the nation’s second largest population group and all qualified U.S. citizens.”

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way

“More than half a million people are speaking out today to say that no American should be left unprotected from voting discrimination. It’s time for Congress to listen to those voices and restore the Voting Rights Act. We have to safeguard every person’s right to participate in our democracy. Otherwise, the fundamental promise of ‘one person, one vote’ becomes hollow.”

Mary Kay Henry, President, SEIU

“Every day Congress fails to protect the right to vote, it gives a free pass to voting discrimination. Working people call on Congress to fulfill the promise of equal rights under our Constitution, restore voting rights and strengthen any new voting rights bill so that it protects all voters.”

Today, 9/17: “VRA for Today” Coalition Launch

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Featuring Voting Rights Advocates, Members of Congress, and 500,000 Americans

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, September 17, at 2:00 PM, a broad coalition of civil rights, labor, and progressive leaders will join with members of Congress at the House Visitors Center to launch the VRA for Today Coalition. These leaders will join their voices with more than 500,000 Americans who strongly support restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting all voters from discrimination.

With the Supreme Court’s misguided and destructive decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder, voters will head to the polls in November with the weakest protections against voting discrimination in half a century. Yet so far Congress has failed to act—despite having a bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act drafted and ready to be debated and moved forward.

The half a million Americans and leading organizations involved in the VRA for Today Coalition stand together in an ongoing fight to restore the Voting Rights Act, with support that will only continue to grow after tomorrow’s launch. The names of the more than 500,000 Americans calling on Congress to protect voters from discrimination will also be delivered to Speaker Boehner.

WHEN: Wednesday, September 17, at 2:00 p.m.

WHO:

  • Congressman Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip
  • Congresswoman Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
  • Congressman Bobby Scott, D-Virginia
  • Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Civil Rights Task Force Chair
  • Congressman G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina
  • Wade Henderson, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program, People for the American Way (PFAW)
  • Laura Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative office, the ACLU
  • Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action
  • Hilary O. Shelton, Washington bureau director, the NAACP

WHAT: Launch of the VRA for Today Coalition with advocates and members of Congress, supported by more than 500,000 Americans 

WHERE: House Visitors Center – HVC 215

RSVP: Email Simpson@civilrights.org to RSVP

House Republican Conference Chair Leaves Washington, but Can’t Run from Voting Rights

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Pressure to Protect Voters Ramps Up During Recess

It’s been nearly eight months since the introduction of the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a bipartisan bill that would restore protections for voters from racial discrimination. Now House Republicans are getting pressured to take action and move the bill while they are home for August.

Take Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, chair of the House Republican Conference and a member of Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team, who felt the pressure from her constituents on voting rights and now should act.

Twice last week at separate town hall meetings, McMorris Rodgers was asked about her support for the VRAA, which was introduced in response to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated important protections in the Voting Rights Act. The first time, the question seemed to catch her off guard, but by the second time, she acknowledged that voting was fundamental and needed to be fair. Now what is the House Republican conference chair going to do when she’s back in DC?

Watch her full responses:

(Clip 1 — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVeQ-k2Aezo)

(Clip 2 — http://dl2.newmediamill.net/media/lccr/CathyMcMorrisRodgersColfax.m4v)

When she was first asked by a local League of Women Voters president, McMorris Rodgers said: “Quite honestly, the Judiciary Committee has a number of priority issues that they’ve been taking on and I think they’re just trying to decide from week to week what is most important.” But talking about how busy congressional committees are is a hard sell given that the current Congress is on track to be the least productive in modern history. And unlike its Senate counterpart, the House Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the VRAA.

She then said “I’ll have to go back and see if there’s a plan to move it sometime soon. I honestly haven’t asked that question recently to know what the status of moving it in the House is.”

Asked at another town hall a few days later by another LWV leader about her support for the VRAA, McMorris Rodgers acknowledged the VRAA has “broad bipartisan support” but committed only to “looking at it.”

She said: “I need to sit down and really look at what has been negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats on this and getting it reauthorized. There are some people that I greatly respect that have been leading on this effort. And I would like to think that I would ultimately be supportive but I’m not quite ready to commit today. But what I can do is commit to looking at it and getting you an answer.”

As a House leader, McMorris Rodgers – who voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006 for 25 more years – should be instrumental in re-establishing essential protections for voters. Along with a status update, she should press House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., to move the VRAA forward with a hearing and a mark-up when Congress returns to Washington in September.

Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer and ahead of the first major election since the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, protecting the right to vote for all Americans is particularly critical – especially given recent reports documenting persistent voting discrimination. Our democracy deserves more than indifference when it comes to the right to vote.

We hope McMorris Rodgers is sincere in saying she’ll get up to speed on the VRAA, and that she does end up supporting and pushing forward these needed protections for voters.

Report: Minority Voters Vulnerable Ahead of Midterm Elections

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Forty-nine years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR) on August 6 released a report documenting persistent voting discrimination in the United States, finding that states previously subject to Section 5 preclearance under the VRA (particularly Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia) continue to be the worst offenders.PMRcover

“Protecting Minority Voters: Our Work is Not Done” objects to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which claimed that greater minority voter participation meant strong voting protections were no longer necessary. According to the report, there were about 332 lawsuits and denials of Section 5 preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice between 1995-2014, and another 10 non-litigation settlements. These successful voting rights challenges illustrate the ongoing problem of voting discrimination and the need for a revitalized VRA.

Some other key findings in the report include:

  • Voting discrimination takes a variety of forms. Discriminatory redistricting plans and at-large elections continue to prompt the most successful lawsuits under Section 2 of the VRA. However, there were also 48 successful lawsuits and 10 non-litigation settlements relating to language translation and assistance.
  • The federal observer program provided an important deterrence against voter discrimination with 10,702 observers deployed from 1995-2012. As a result of the Shelby County decision, the DOJ is no longer deploying federal observers to the formerly covered states.

Other recent publications documenting voting discrimination include: