Can the Voting Rights Act be Saved? A New Bipartisan Bill Might do Just That.

A bipartisan group of legislators announced a bill today that may serve to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, which was severely weakened by a Supreme Court Decision last year. The VRA, designed to protect against discriminatory voting laws, has been difficult to apply since losing its main enforcement provision last June.

The "Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014" is sponsored by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). It strengthens the VRA in 5 ways (more details and analysis here and here):

  • If states have more than 5 voting rights violations in the last 15 years, all changes to election law will require federal pre-approval.
  • The federal government will be able to more easily intervene if the effect of a voting law is intentionally or unintentionally discriminatory.
  • States will have to let voters know a minimum of 180 days in advance if their polling place or voting district changes, which provides greater accountability when these changes might produce a discriminatory outcome.
  • It will be easier to legally place boundaries against discriminatory new laws.
  • The Attorney General will send election observers anywhere with a history of discrimination against language minority groups.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that weakened the VRA, a series of restrictive voting laws have sprung up, many with potentially discriminatory effects, if not intent. This new bill may have the power to shore up the Voting Rights Act so that it can continue to do its job: protecting citizens from the laws that threaten to disenfranchise them.