House Passes Bill to Curb Voter Suppression Ahead of 2020

Laura Litvan

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House voted to require states with a history of voter suppression to get federal approval for election-law changes, part of an effort by Democrats to restore the process that was struck down by the Supreme Court six years ago.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act, H.R. 4, which passed 228-187 on Friday, is opposed by leaders of the GOP-controlled Senate. The White House has threatened a veto, arguing that the measure would let the federal government interfere in decisions that should be made by states.

House Democrats are seeking to show that they’re working on matters besides the impeachment of President Donald Trump, rebutting accusations from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they have stalled the 2019 congressional agenda. Along with Friday’s legislation, the House has passed hundreds of bills this year that have gotten no action in the Senate.

Democrats backing the voting rights measure criticized what they said were widespread efforts in predominantly Republican states such as Georgia and Alabama in 2018 to curtail voting by minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats. That includes purging voter rolls of those who hadn’t voted in recent elections or adopting stricter registration requirements.

The legislation is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a core provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That section outlined a formula for deciding which states must get Justice Department preclearance to change their election laws. The high court said the formula was outdated.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said 23 states have enacted laws “denying millions the right to vote” since that Supreme Court decision.

“Our Democratic majority came to Congress with an urgent promise to secure the sacred right to vote,” Pelosi said before Friday’s vote. “We must restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act.”

The House measure would establish a new road map for deciding which states need Justice Department clearance to ensure their laws aren’t discriminatory. States would fall into that category if they had 15 or more voting rights violations during the previous 25 years, or as few as 10 if the state itself had been responsible for any of them.

Lead authors of the bill, including Democrat Terri Sewell of Alabama, said 11 states would likely be subject to the reviews if it became law. They are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton, Laurie Asséo

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