Last Friday, Democrats in the US House and Senate, including Georgia Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, filed the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015. This legislation amends the Voting Rights Act and modernizes the formula that determines which states must submit changes to their voting laws for preclearance by the Department of Justice. The previous formula, contained in Section 4 of the voting rights act, was ruled unconstitutional in the 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013. Since that ruling, many states that were previously covered by preclearance have instituted more restrictive voting laws. Notably, North Carolina dramatically changed their voting rights law after the decision, instituting strict voter ID requirements, slashing early voting, and eliminating same-day voter registration.
The formula established by the Voting Rights Advancement Act would not just impact southern states – states and counties would be subject to preclearance if they met a certain threshold of voting rights violations in the past 25 years. At present this would cover 13 states: 10 former Confederate states (including Georgia) as well as Arizona, California, and New York. While the Voting Rights Act was renewed unanimously in the Senate and with only 33 “no” votes from House Republicans in 2006 (including GA GOP Reps. Nathan Deal, Phil Gingrey, John Linder, Charles Norwood, Tom Price, and Lynn Westmoreland) this year’s bill has only Democratic and independent cosponsors.
Johnson published a Huffington Post op-ed yesterday that explicitly ties the fight to restore the VRA preclearance provisions to ongoing controversy over the Confederate flag.
“In the Jim Crow era, the Confederate battle flag flew over states and counties where African Americans were systematically denied the right to vote. Brave men and women of all races fought against this anti-American and anti-democratic status quo. Many died in the fight. Eventually, the battle for voting rights was won with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, the Court might as well have given license to once again hoist the Confederate battle flag above voting booths in the South and across this country.
Though this emblem of hate, bigotry and racism was lowered in South Carolina, where the Civil War began, it continues to fly figuratively where it does the most harm – in the voting booth – until the VRA is restored, and all Americans can freely exercise their right to vote.”
To get the full historical context behind the VRA and conservatives’ efforts to weaken it, it might be worth your while to sit down with a cup of coffee to digest a new 10,000-word feature from the New York Times on the state of voting rights from the end of the Civil War to the present. While author Jim Rutenberg covers laws to strip voter rolls and efforts to intimidate minority voters undertaken by Southern Democrats during the Jim Crow era, his piece focuses primarily on the fight by to strip protections from minority voters after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
Several Georgians play a role in the story – you’ll read of Hans von Spakovsky, who served on Fulton County’s Board of Rlections, and his Voting Integrity Project’s efforts to “purge” rolls of deceased and felon voters that, famously in Florida before the 2000 election, disenfranchised legitimately registered voters. And our cutting-edge voter ID law gets a mention, too, including Rep. Sue Burmeister’s (R-Augusta) comments reported by the Department of Justice (which she denies having made) on how black voters were less likely to vote without payment.