House passes bill to strengthen historic electoral law

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WASHINGTON – House Democrats on Tuesday passed legislation that would strengthen a landmark civil rights-era voting law weakened by the Supreme Court over the past decade, a step party leaders are touting as a step forward in their quest to fight advanced voting restrictions in Republican-ruled states.

The bill, which is part of a larger Democratic effort to enact a radical overhaul of the elections, was approved by 219-212 votes, without Republican support. Its passage was hailed by President Joe Biden, who said he would protect a “sacred right” and called on the Senate to “send this important bill to my office”.

But the measure faces dim prospects in this chamber, where Democrats lack enough votes to overcome opposition from Senate Republicans, who dismissed the bill as “unnecessary” and a “takeover.” “democrat.

This bottleneck puts Democrats back to where they started with a slim chance of passing electoral legislation ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, as some party members fear new GOP laws will make the vote more difficult for many Americans.

But they still intend to try.

Speaking from the House floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was imperative that Congress thwart Republican efforts, which she called “dangerous” and “anti-democratic.”

“Democracy is under attack by what is the worst voter suppression campaign in America since Jim Crow,” Pelosi said.

The Advancement of Voting Rights Act of John Lewis, named after the late Georgia congressman who made the issue a defining feature of his career, would restore voting rights protections that were dismantled by the Court supreme. Under the proposal, the Justice Department would once again monitor new changes to electoral laws in states that have accumulated a series of “violations”, dragging them into a mandatory review process known as “preclearance.” .

The practice was first put in place under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But it was overturned by a conservative majority in the Supreme Court in 2013, which ruled that the formula for determining which states needed their laws to be revised was outdated and unfairly punitive. The court said, however, that Congress could come up with a new formula, which the bill does.

A second court ruling in July made it more difficult to challenge voting restrictions in court under another section of the law.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative Terri Sewell, said that “the old battles have indeed become new again”, made possible by the decisions of the Supreme Court.

“While literacy tests and voting taxes no longer exist, some states and local jurisdictions have passed laws that are modern barriers to voting,” said Sewell, a Democrat from Alabama.

In many cases, the new bill would not apply to laws enacted in the years following the court ruling in 2013. This likely includes the wave of new Republican-backed restrictions inspired by false claims by Donald Trump from a stolen 2020 election.

But if enacted with the Democrats’ other election bill, the For the People Act, many of those restrictions could be neutralized – and possibly prevented from being re-approved. Both laws would likely face legal challenges.

In the short term, Tuesday’s vote was to appease reluctant Democratic activists frustrated by inaction on the issue in the Senate.

NAACP Chairman Derrick Johnson said he was “encouraged” by the passage of the bill. But he also offered a thinly veiled threat, pledging to watch closely while the Senate deals with it and “keeps track of every yes and every no.”

“Make no mistake, we will be there, on the ground in 2022, in every state that needs a new senator,” he said in a statement.

Democrats’ slim 50-50 majority in the Senate means they lack the 60 votes needed to overcome an obstruction. For months, Progressives have called for the removal of the filibuster, but a number of moderate Democrats oppose the idea, refusing the votes necessary to do so.

It is also not clear that the John Lewis Advancement of Voting Rights Act, as drafted, would be supported by all Democrats in the Senate, where there is no voice to spare. .

One provision in the bill would prohibit many types of voter identification laws, including those already in force. This flies in the face of a proposal by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is the most conservative Democrat in the chamber. He spent weeks working with Senate leadership to develop a more targeted alternative to the For the People Act, and specifically called for a voter identification standard that would allow people to use a document as a bill. public services.

Republicans, meanwhile, criticized the timing of the measure, noting that Pelosi has recalled Democrats since the August recess to pass the bill, as well as to vote on Democrats’ spending priorities, as the United States faces their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“If there is a time to put an election aside, if there is a time to put politics aside, I would have thought today was that day,” said the minority leader parliamentarian Kevin McCarthy.

Conservatives also criticized the bill as a departure from the 1965 electoral law, which used minority turnout data as well as the history of a place where discriminatory electoral laws were passed to determine which places would be subject to scrutiny. a preclearance.

The new bill, instead, relies heavily on more lenient standards, such as using the number of legal regulations and consent decrees issued in voting rights cases, to bring places into focus. preclearance.

According to Republicans, that plays into the hands of the Democrats, who have put together a sophisticated and well-funded legal effort to challenge voting rules in conservative-leaning states.

Rep. Michelle Fischbach, a Republican from Minnesota, predicted it would be a boon to Democratic advocacy groups and litigators, who “would file as many objections as possible to create litigation.”

“This gives the attorney general the power to intimidate states and seek federal government approval before making changes to their own election laws,” she said.


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