Itís only been about seven months since the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act, but members of Congress are already working to restore some of the provisions to prevent voting laws that are racially discriminatory. Though the legislation is still in preliminary stages, its early bipartisan support is certainly promising.
To understand why it is so important to reinstate parts of the Voting Rights Act, we need look no further than how states reacted in the days following the Supreme Court decision. As Crystal Shepeard reported, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi all quickly pushed forward on previously stalled efforts to pass voter ID laws that disproportionately affected minority citizens.
The good news is that the Supreme Courtís decision did not rule out the possibility of a Voting Rights Act altogether. The Justicesí (well, five of them anyway) main objection was that the rules applied to certain states based on a historical reputation of disenfranchisement rather than current infractions. So while the Supreme Court threw out the previous law because it still relied on statistics from the 1970s, it nonetheless left room for restrictions based on more recent discrimination.
Consequentially, this potential new legislation will be based on contemporary data. If passed, any state that has had five or more voting rights violations (one of which must be state-wide) in the previous 15 years would require federal clearance before changing their voting procedures. Furthermore, states that went 15 years without an infraction would no longer face the restriction.
The bill is sponsored by Democrats including Representative John Conyers of Michigan and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, as well as Republicans including Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama. ďIt is amazing to me, unbelievable, almost unreal that we were able to come together so quickly to craft a compromise that Democrats and Republicans can find a way to support and move forward,Ē said Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Part of the reason the compromise was achieved is that the law would no longer single out just southern states for these regulations. For example, under the proposed rules, a northern state would no longer be automatically exempt. If a state anywhere in the United States were to be found guilty of multiple discriminatory voting practices, it would face the same restrictions that one with a more storied history of racism would.
That said, itís no secret that these rules would affect mainly southern states. If the updated Voting Rights Act were to be approved by Congress, the states it would immediately impact are Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas based on their discriminatory practices over the previous decade and a half. With this fact in mind, the legislation is likely to meet resistance from politicians in these states in particular.