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House Democrats restart effort to craft new voting rights bill

Report finds states used voter ID, redistricting to blunt minority impact

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said he hopes the Judiciary Committee will draft a new voting rights bill in time for a House vote in September.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said he hopes the Judiciary Committee will draft a new voting rights bill in time for a House vote in September. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Administration Committee on Friday kick-started the process for creating a new Voting Rights Act bill, releasing a report alleging that recent voting restrictions have discriminated against minority voters.

Democrats on the Subcommittee on Elections drafted the report following months of hearings about the impact of voting restrictions that states have implemented since a 2013 Supreme Court decision invalidating part of the Voting Rights Act. Their report argues states have used voter identification laws, voter roll purges and redistricting to minimize the impact of minority voters.

Those efforts have only intensified since President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., told reporters during a news conference Friday. Trump’s repeated false claims about election fraud have been taken up and amplified by many of his supporters, he said.

“Republicans across the country are using these bills to further legitimize the former president’s big lie. This is an assault on our democracy, and we need to call it what it is to stop this anti-democratic wave,” Aguilar said.

[Clyburn: Pass voting bills or Democrats will lose majorities]

The committee sent the report to the House Judiciary Committee to draft a new version of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to be named after the late Rep. John Lewis. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said he hopes the Judiciary Committee will draft the bill in time for a House vote in September. 

That would leave little room for Senate consideration if Democrats hope to pass the law before states finish drawing up their new congressional maps. That process starts Thursday with the Census Bureau’s release of detailed local data, which had been delayed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, it’s unclear what path the bill may have in the closely divided Senate, which earlier this summer voted 50-50 along party lines on a motion to advance a broad federal election and campaign finance bill, falling short of a 60-vote threshold. 

So far, the push for a new Voting Rights Act has garnered little Republican support. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, cosponsored a VRA bill last Congress; in May, she and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., called for a renewal of the law. This Congress, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called the measure “unnecessary” and said he would oppose it.

The House passed a similar bill last Congress with a single Republican vote — from Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. — but the Senate, led by then-Majority Leader McConnell, never took it up. 

The previous version of the bill would have reinstated Department of Justice preclearance of election law changes in many states and expanded the list to include others, including Florida, New York, North Carolina and California.

Earlier this year, the House Administration and Judiciary committees held a series of hearings to build a record of discriminatory practices, Butterfield said, partially because of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That decision invalidated the 1965 formulas used to justify DOJ preclearance of election changes, effectively putting preclearance on hold.

Butterfield said the evidence in the report released Friday “clearly demonstrates that Congress must act immediately to require jurisdictions who engage in bad conduct to submit voting changes to the Department of Justice for preclearance.”

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