House passes bill meant to restore Voting Rights Act

The House on Friday passed a bill led by Democrats aimed at restoring a provision of the Voting Rights Act that would require certain jurisdictions to obtain preclearance from the federal government before implementing any changes to voting practices. 

The bill, which passed 228-187 and was spearheaded by Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellRevered civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis lies in state in the Capitol House approves Clyburn proposal to rename voting rights bill after John Lewis John Lewis carried across Edmund Pettus Bridge for last time MORE (D-Ala.), includes language that would put criteria in place to determine “which States and political subdivisions” would have to seek federal approval in an attempt to crack down on voter suppression. 

The bill looks to broaden the criteria in which courts can “retain the authority to preclear voting changes” and “the Department of Justice may assign election observers” in addition to requiring the jurisdictions to notify the public of any changes to voting practices. 

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Democrats praised the bill, arguing it’s necessary to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision and ensure access to fair voting. 

“It demonstrates the states and localities and in particular, those that were formerly subject to preclearance have engaged in various voting suppression tactics such as imposing burdensome proof of citizenship laws, polling place closures, purges of voter rolls, and significant scale-backs to early voting periods,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBy questioning Barr, Democrats unmasked their policy of betrayal Chris Wallace: Barr hearing 'an embarrassment' for Democrats: 'Just wanted to excoriate him' Apple posts blowout third quarter MORE (D-N.Y.) said during debate ahead of the vote. 

“These kind of voting restrictions have a disproportionate and negative impact on racial and language minority voters and deprived them of a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In short, the record is clear that substantial voter suppression exists across the country that H.R. 4 coverage formula is necessary to address this discrimination.”

Critics of the bill slammed the measure, calling it an infringement on state rights. 

"It doubles down on federalizing elections and would attempt to put every state and jurisdiction in this country under preclearance. The majority's been unable to determine the number of states or jurisdictions that would be covered by this preclearance if H.R. 4 were to become law. Apparently, we have to pass this bill before the American people would know if they would or would not be subjected to it,” Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Illinois Republican tests positive for coronavirus The Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war MORE (R-Ill.) said on the floor. 

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“The majority knows H.R. 4 is bad policy that will cripple thousands of local election officials across the country if it were ever to become law. Let me be clear. H.R. 4 is not a voting rights act reauthorization bill. H.R. 4 is about two things: placing the unnecessary preclearance requirements on to states and the Democrats giving the Department of Justice control overall — over all election activity," he said.

Under the bill, the jurisdictions would have to receive the clearance from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes. 

The states and the political subdivisions within them would be subject to the preclearance for 10 years “if (1) 15 or more voting rights violations occurred in the state during the previous 25 years; or (2) 10 or more violations occurred during the previous 25 years, at least one of which was committed by the state itself. A political subdivision as a separate unit shall also be subject to preclearance for a 10-year period if three or more voting rights violations occurred there during the previous 25 years.”

The measure faces an unlikely path forward in the Republican-controlled Senate.