Se­nate GOP likely to block vot­ing rights bill

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY WIL­LIAM DOU­GLAS AND EMMA DUMAIN

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House Democrats are launch­ing an am­bi­tious ef­fort to re­pair the land­mark vot­ing rights law that was frac­tured by the Supreme Court in 2013, with lead­ers ey­ing field hear­ings in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Ge­or­gia and other states.

They are un­der tremen­dous pres­sure from their sup­port­ers to de­liver.

Though Democrats will run the House next year, the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate is not likely to con­sider any leg­is­la­tion ad­dress­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act that gets passed in the House.

“States run elec­tions. Let’s keep it that way,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-South Carolina, likely the next chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee that would have ju­ris­dic­tion over the mat­ter.

Fresh off their midterm elec­tion vic­to­ries, how­ever, Democrats want to show re­sults – and fast. They are plan­ning as their agenda-set­ting leg­is­la­tion for 2019, a bill they’ve branded as “HR 1.”

It will pack­age to­gether a num­ber of “good gov­ern­ment” mea­sures to in­crease trans­parency in rules govern­ing cam­paign fi­nance trans­ac­tions, im­pose new eth­i­cal stan­dards on fed­eral of­fi­cials and make it eas­ier to vote.

Many Democrats want to re­store a key pro­vi­sion of 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act as part of that pack­age, ea­ger to cap­i­tal­ize on the vot­ing con­tro­ver­sies in gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions in Ge­or­gia and Florida, where there were com­plaints of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

In a con­fer­ence call with re­porters Thurs­day, Rep. John Sar­banes, D-Mary­land, said this task could be ac­com­plished “within the early weeks of the next Congress” if hear­ings are “done on a fairly ag­gres­sive sched­ule.”

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down this pro­vi­sion of the law that re­quired some or all of 15 states and ju­ris­dic­tions with a his­tory of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion at the polls to get fed­eral ap­proval, or pre-clear­ance, be­fore chang­ing their vot­ing rules.

Rep. Terri Sewell, DAlabama, said she hopes her col­leagues will pass a ver­sion of the vot­ing rights bill, which re­in­states the pre-clearence man­date, she has al­ready in­tro­duced by March.

March 1965 is when civil rights icon John Lewis, a Ge­or­gia Demo­cratic con­gress­man, holds his an­nual gath­er­ing at the Ed­mund Pet­tus Bridge in Selma – the site where po­lice bru­tally at­tacked vot­ing rights demon­stra­tors, in­clud­ing Lewis.

But Rep. Mar­cia Fudge, D-Ohio, the des­ig­nated chair­woman of a new sub­com­mit­tee on elec­tions, told McClatchy on Wed­nes­day she is plan­ning field hear­ings around the coun­try to build a “record” of elec­tion vi­o­la­tions nec­es­sary to up­date the pre-clear­ance re­quire­ment of the Vot­ing Rights Act, which the Supreme Court gut­ted in 2013.

“I think that would give us suf­fi­cient time to do the work that we need to do, to cre­ate the record and do a re­port that would be sat­is­fac­tory to the Supreme Court and still then give us time to make sure ev­ery­thing’s in place be­fore we go into a 2020 elec­tion,” she said.

The Supreme Court, in its 5- 4 de­ci­sion in 2013, said that part of the Vot­ing Rights Act must be up­dated to ac­count for how times have changed since Congress first wrote the leg­is­la­tion, and urged law­mak­ers to re­visit it.

Ef­forts to do so stalled in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House with House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte, R-Vir­ginia, de­clin­ing to move bills that were crafted to ad­dress the court’s con­cerns.

Good­latte, whose state was one of the ju­ris­dic­tions pre­vi­ously sub­jected to the pre-clear­ance re­quire­ment, was among the Repub­li­cans who cheered the Supreme Court de­ci­sion as one that rec­og­nized states had come a long way since the days of the most bla­tant dis­en­fran­chise­ment of black vot­ers.

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