In the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), gutting the legislation and ending the federal government’s oversight of potentially discriminatory state voting law changes. Section 4(b) established a formula to identify states who needed federal preclearance of voting law changes because of their history of voter suppression. In the Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Court ended the preapproval process, a ruling that the over 40-year old formula was outdated and put an undue burden on states. Since then, at least 22 states, including many previously covered by the preclearance requirement, have implemented measures that systematically disenfranchise voters of color and low-income voters. Such changes include reducing polling locations, requiring voter ID, shortening early voting, and purging voter rolls.
To restore the VRA’s enforcement power, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), (H.R. 4/S. 4), which includes a modern formula to determine which states must secure federal approval for voting law changes. The new formula would assess which states have had repeated voting rights violations over the previous 25 years. States found to have excessive rights violations would be subject to federal oversight for ten years, with the opportunity to end federal oversight after that time period. The VRAA will again provide the federal government with the tools necessary to combat voter suppression and help ensure every American’s right to vote.
The House passed the VRAA late last year. Now the Senate must act and pass this critical legislation to ensure our elections are fair and free for all voters.