House Democrats to vote on restoration of Voting Rights Act this month

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON — House Democrats will vote this month on a bill intended to lay the foundation for a restoration of the full Voting Rights Act, a significant step in a years-long effort to respond to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that significantly weakened the law.

“I think we’re very close to getting that on the floor,” House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., told Yahoo News in an interview, predicting a vote in the House before the end of the year.

For the past year, the House subcommittee on elections, chaired by Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, has conducted a series of eight field hearings in states across the country, compiling evidence to support the assertion that voter suppression not only remains a problem but has increased since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, leaves a closed-door meeting at Capitol Visitor Center Auditorium. (Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In mid-November, Fudge released a 139-page report documenting what her committee found. It will provide material that will be added to the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, which was introduced in February by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said last Friday in a letter to the House that he expects to “consider” the legislation in December. 

The report produced by Fudge’s subcommittee found that “many legacy voter suppression tactics are still pervasive,” and that “a new wave of surreptitious tactics has also emerged” after the Shelby decision. 

The Supreme Court ruled in Shelby that states no longer needed to seek Justice Department approval for major changes to voting procedures. The 1965 Voting Rights Act had instituted “pre-clearance” for a number of Southern states with a history of race-based voting discrimination.

But Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 5-4 majority opinion in Shelby that pre-clearance was based on outdated criteria, and that if Congress wanted to reinstitute it, lawmakers “must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions.”

The Fudge report represented the House Democrats’ effort to capture “current conditions.” 

The report said that, among the examples of voter suppression, “states have aggressively purged otherwise eligible voters from the voter registration rolls, made cuts to early voting and same-day registration, moved, closed, or consolidated polling places without adequate notice to voters, required exact name or signature match, engaged in discriminatory gerrymandering, and restricted language access and assistance.”

Republicans on Fudge’s subcommittee have expressed skepticism of the Democrats’ conclusions. 

“The committee has yet to find a single citizen who was unable to vote who wanted to,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the top Republican on the elections subcommittee, at a mid-October hearing

Even if House Democrats pass the resolution, the Republican-controlled Senate will not see the legislation as a priority, and will be almost certain to let it languish without a vote.

The Democrats’ strategy, however, is to have the legislation ready for the possibility that they retake control of the White House and Senate in the 2020 elections.

Barring that, the Fudge report could also serve as evidentiary support for a court challenge to the Shelby decision.


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