The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HR 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (VRAA) on October 23, 2019. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) strongly endorses the VRAA and encourages the House to pass HR 4 without delay.
In the 2013 decision in Shelby County v Holder, the Supreme Court held a key provision of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional and gutted the preclearance mechanism for changes in voting laws in states with histories of discriminatory voting practices. However, the Supreme Court also invited Congress to update the preclearance formula to remedy the perceived constitutional violation. Congressional action on that invitation is long overdue.
The Shelby decision gave the ‘green light’ to states across the country to enact laws that suppress voting rights. HR 4 would update the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula and enhance the federal government's ability to protect minority voters from discriminatory laws, as well as create a more transparent and accountable system for jurisdictions to disclose election law changes.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held another hearing on the VRAA in early October. In his opening statement, Chairmen Cohen said: “The right to vote is the right that guarantees all other rights in our democracy. […] But, sadly, since the effective neutering of the preclearance provision, voting rights for minorities once again is under sustained assault in many parts of our country.”
Since the Shelby decision, there has been a well-documented wave of voter suppression laws and practices. The closure of at least 868 polling locations in minority communities previously covered by the Voting Rights Act, the passage of discriminatory photo ID laws in states such as Texas, and a rash of discriminatory election method changes and voter purges, all could have been prevented if the Voting Rights Act was still fully in force.
The VRAA will empower the federal government to prevent these kinds of voting rights violations before they impact voters, by requiring federal preclearance of laws passed that alter the voting process’ in states and localities with a history of voting rights violations.
Throughout the 116th Congress, the House Committee on Administration’s Subcommittee on Elections has traveled to multiple states to hear from witnesses and collect testimony on the state of voting rights in the United States following the Shelby decision. CLC submitted written testimony emphasizing the need to protect voting rights to the field hearings in Tennessee and Alabama.
CLC has been working in states with histories of disenfranchisement to provide direct rights restoration services to people with a past conviction and empower communities with the resources and information necessary to navigate complicated disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement laws. Learn more about CLC’s Restore Your Vote campaign.
This post was written by Sheely Edwards, a 2019 CLC Hinckley intern, and student at the University of Utah.