Stacey Abrams urges lawmakers to restore Voting Rights Act

Stacey Abrams urges lawmakers to restore Voting Rights Act
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Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams urged lawmakers to restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in testimony Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee.

Abrams, a Democrat, told lawmakers that since a Supreme Court ruling shutting down parts of the law states had set up new restrictions to voting, which she said disproportionately affected minority voters.

“Jurisdictions formerly covered under Section 5, joined now by states with changing demographics, have raced to reinstate or create new hurdles to voter registration, ballot access and ballot counting,” Abrams said. “Among the states though Georgia has been the most aggressive in levering the lack of federal oversight to use both law and policy to target voters of color.”

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Abrams testimony came on the 6th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, in which the justices in a 5-4 ruling undid parts of the Voting Rights Act. The law required states with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before changing voting rights laws. The court, though, said the data used to determine which states and counties were covered by the law was outdated and unconstitutional.

Democrats and civil rights groups have long blasted the decision, which they say gutted the law and allowed states to disenfranchise voters, particularly African-Americans. House Democrats have said they intend to pass legislation to revive sections of the Voting Rights Act.

Abrams in 2018 lost her gubernatorial bid to Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.), in a race where the Republican was accused of voter suppression tactics and criticized for not stepping down as the state's head of elections.

Abrams criticized Kemp in her testimony. "During his tenure, in a state with 6 million voters, the former Secretary of State removed over 1.4 million voters from the rolls," she said.

Democrats on the panel reiterated Abrams concerns.

Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Pelosi, allies seek to keep gun debate focused on McConnell Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch MORE (D-Md.) worried that lengthy litigation over voting rights violations compounded the problem. He cited Texas and North Carolina both enacting voter ID laws after the Shelby decision.

The North Carolina law was finally struck down in 2016 and in 2017 the Supreme Court denied the state's request to take up the case. The Texas law was struck down in the courts, but the state later passed a new voter ID law.

"If we allow them to go ahead and impose another disenfranchising mechanism and they finally get to court 6 months, 8 months, 2 months later it’s too late to do anything: it's meaningless,” said Raskin.

Abrams also spoke of the difficulties her group, Fair Fight Action, and other civil rights organizations face when fighting changes to voting laws in court.

“It is a crippling burden that has been placed on organizations that have to seek outside financial support in order to secure the fundamentally guaranteed right to vote,” she said.

But some Republican lawmakers questioned the formula used by the Voting Rights Act.

"At the time the coverage formula, the means of linking the exercise of unprecedented authority with the problem that warranted it, made sense. Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically,” said Rep. Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonConservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess Nadler shuts down Republican point of order after impeachment question Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress MORE (R­-La.).