House Republicans skip vote to restore Voting Rights Act

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Six of the 17 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee showed up, only to vote against the legislation.

The majority of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee chose not to weigh in this week on a piece of legislation that would protect Americans' right to vote.

Led by Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the committee on Wednesday voted in favor of the H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), by a margin of 19-6. All six Republicans present voted no, while the remaining 11 Republicans on the committee decided to skip the vote.

Democrats on the committee unanimously supported the bill.

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The next step would be a vote by the full House of Representatives.

The VRAA is a response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated key civil rights protections in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, according to remarks Nadler delivered prior to the vote. In essence, the bill restores federal preclearance authority over states and localities that have a history of voter suppression efforts.

Preclearance means that the Justice Department would have to approve any changes to voting laws in places with a troubled history of protecting the right to vote.

According to Nadler, "states in which 15 or more voting rights violations have occurred, or those in which 10 or more violations have occurred if at least one of the violations was committed by the state itself, would be subject to preclearance."

After the Supreme Court struck down the preclearance provision in 2013, many states and localities with a long history of voter suppression made drastic changes to their voting laws.

Many states and localities "that were formerly subject to the preclearance requirement have enacted or engaged in various voter suppression tactics, such as imposing burdensome proof of citizenship laws; polling place closures; purges of voter rolls; significant scale-backs to early voting periods; restrictions on absentee ballots; and laws that make it difficult to restore the voting rights of formerly-incarcerated individuals," Nadler said, adding that these policies "have a disproportionate and negative impact on racial and language minority voters."

One of the few Republicans who attended the mark-up spoke out against the bill on Wednesday.

"We urge all of our colleagues to join us in opposing this bill, which would unconstitutionally deny states and localities control over their own voting rules when there is absolutely no evidence at all that they have been engaging in discriminatory treatment at all based on race," Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) said.

Contrary to Johnson's claim, there is ample evidence of voter discrimination based on race. In North Carolina, Republicans tried to enact a voter ID law that one federal court described as an unconstitutional effort "to target African Americans with almost surgical precision."

A 2018 analysis by USA Today showed that polling location closures across the country disproportionately impacted minority voters. A report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found almost 1,700 polling sites across 13 states have closed since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act.

Republicans in Georgia engaged in voter suppression tactics aimed at African Americans in the 2018 midterm elections, according to Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her bid to be the state's first black female governor. Abrams has now created an organization to fight for fair elections across the country.

Further, according to a 2018 analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, states previously covered by preclearance "purged voters off their rolls at a significantly higher rate than non-covered jurisdictions."

Democrats have attempted to head off such voter roll purges in places like Kentucky, where they won a lawsuit to restore "inactive" voters who had been dropped previously.

Elsewhere, Republicans have made similar efforts to winnow their voter rolls, including in Ohio, where the Republican secretary of state tried to purge 235,000 voters before realizing 40,000 of them should not have been included on his list.

Republicans have lost several court cases in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia gerrymandering issues over the last year, in which the party drew legislative districts to gain advantages in elections.

The VRAA would combat such efforts by states and localities to skew election outcomes.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), sponsor of the VRAA, celebrated the Judiciary Committee passing H.R. 4 on Wednesday.

"We are one step closer to restoring the Voting Rights Act to its full strength," she tweeted. "Now, on to the House floor!"

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.