WASHINGTON – Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D.-Ga., and Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell Thursday introduced a bill that would restore voting rights protections struck down four years ago by the Supreme Court in an effort to block some states’ efforts to impose tough new voter registration laws.
Nearly all of the 193 House Democrats have signed on to the legislation; the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus and Asian Pacific American Caucus also endorsed the bill.
Sewell said no Republicans were willing to support the measure.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act is a response to the four-year-old Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder; the court struck down two key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which put 13 states under strict rules not to change their voter laws without federal approval and set a formula for determining which states would be subject to the law.
The high court said the 41-year-old formula was so out of date that it was unconstitutional.
The new bill creates a new formula, but puts the 13 states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, California, New York, and Virginia – back under federal authority for any voting changes.
“We’re not going to have Alabama being penalized for what happened in the 1960s. Our bill examines the last 25 years—1990 to present—as a way to put a modern-day formula on the enforcement of voting rights,” said Sewell.
In addition to creating a new formula and listing states that need federal supervision, the measure would require states with repeated and persistent violations of voting rights to be subject to federal oversight for 10 years; however, if they established a clean record, they could be removed from the list.
It also would review state laws that require photo IDs to vote and that reduce multilingual voting materials. The bill also would allow federal courts to intervene in the event questionable voting practices were employed.
“The vote is sacred in a democratic society like ours. From the time we are born until we die, it controls everything we do,” Lewis said. “Some of us gave a little blood and spent time in jail. Many, still, died for the opportunity to vote. For that reason, it should be as easy as getting a clean glass of water.”
Sierra Gray, a native of Alabama, attended the press conference and said she remembers the effect of Gomillion v.Lightfoot — a 1960 case that redrew the voting boundaries of Tuskegee from a square to a 26-sided figure—which “intentionally meant to get rid of African-American voters, Gray asserted. “We have to be hopeful that America would continue to progress. Without it, both hope and progress, we would be in a far worse place.”