Common Cause Hails Introduction of Voting Rights Advancement Act

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  • Dale Eisman

This morning, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the “Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015” – a bill that would reinvigorate a law that, for 50 years, ensured Americans could freely and fairly vote, without fear of discrimination.  The new bill, co-sponsored by fellow Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin (IL), Chris Coons, (DE), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) offers a progressive and modern solution to an age-old problem.  A House version of the bill will be introduced by Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Linda Sanchez (D-CA).  Common Cause wholeheartedly endorses the legislation.

“For decades, the Voting Rights Act helped advance our country towards a more inclusive democracy,” said Miles Rapoport, President of Common Cause.  “When the Supreme Court eviscerated one of the law’s most important provisions – the one with power to prevent discriminatory practice from becoming law – it inflicted a grave injustice on the law and the American people.  Congress can, through passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, show that it will bring back protections to our most fundamental constitutional right.”

Many will recall that, two years ago tomorrow, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated a formula in the Voting Rights Act that determined which states and jurisdictions, based on longstanding discriminatory practices, should first obtain clearance to proposed voting law changes before implementation.  That law worked for five decades, effectively thwarting thousands of discriminatory practices from taking hold – as considered by the Congress in 2006, when it last reauthorized the law by overwhelming bipartisan support.  Discounting this evidence, and despite its acknowledgment that “the act proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process,” the Supreme Court nevertheless gutted that law, adding that “things had dramatically changed.” 

As Sen. Leahy noted, “if anybody thinks there’s not racial discrimination in voting today, they’re not really paying attention.”  Indeed, since the Shelby decision, we have seen a number of state legislatures – including in Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin – pass restrictive measures that effectively dissuade or prevent working Americans, who are disproportionately people of color, from exercising their right to vote, all as part of a partisan ploy.  To protect against additional discriminatory laws, authors of the Voting Rights Advancement Act – in keeping with the Supreme Court’s mandate that a new formula address “current conditions”- considered discriminatory practices from the previous 25 years to determine which states would now fall under the “preclearance” provision.  It is a progressive and fair solution, and one deserving of bipartisan support. 

“We have, as a nation, made significant progress with the protections of the Voting Rights Act,” said Miles Rapoport.  “But we have not yet achieved the ideal that Dr. King, and countless others, lived and died for; we have more work to do.  The Voting Rights Advancement Act is a step in the right direction and a cause that every American – from both sides of the aisle – can and should support.  Unless and until we design our elections systems to ensure that all eligible Americans are participating and making their voices heard, we will not truly attain a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people.’  The time for us to act is now.”