Rep. Sewell Introduces the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015
Today, Congresswoman Terri Sewell announced that she is a lead sponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, a bill that restores and advances the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by providing a modern day coverage test that will extend federal oversight to jurisdictions which have a history of voter suppression and protects vulnerable communities from discriminatory voting practices.
“There is an urgent need to protect the progress we have made since the courageous Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement dared to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago. We have inherited their legacy, and the fight to ensure that all Americans can participate in our political process continues today. The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 takes an expansive view of the need to protect access to the voting booth, and will offer more voter protection to more people in more states.
“The updated coverage formula in this bill will ensure that states, like Alabama, are required to obtain federal preclearance for changes to voting practices and procedures that could have a discriminatory impact. Alabama has a storied history of voter suppression, and it is ironic that the same state that launched the voting rights movement has become fertile ground for its demise.
“On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, I urge my colleagues to recommit ourselves to restoring the promise of voter equality. We cannot silence any voices in our electorate. Our nation will cease to be a democracy if we limit access to voting.”
Background Information on the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015
Today, Senators Patrick Leahy (VT), Dick Durbin (IL) and Chris Coons (DE) introduced a companion Senate bill.
Joining Congresswoman Sewell as lead sponsors of House bill include Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (CA-38), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Congressman John Lewis signed on as an original co-sponsor.
Under the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, federal protections will extend to all voters nationwide. The legislation targets certain voting practices known to suppress the voting rights of minorities and the disabled. The bill is the result of collaboration with those at the grassroots who have witnessed the harmful effects discriminatory voting laws have had in their communities.
Key provisions of the bill include:
- A new geographic coverage formula that is based on current conditions that includes 13 states: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, California, New York and Virginia. The bill establishes a “rolling” nationwide trigger that continuously moves so that only states that have a recent record of racial discrimination in voting would be covered.
- Allows federal courts to bail in states for preclearance based on discriminatory results not only intentional violation. Current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in if an intentional violation can be shown. The new legislation offers more protection by allowing a court to bail in states or jurisdictions whose voting practices have discriminatory results.
- Greater transparency in federal elections to ensure that voters are made aware of late-breaking changes in voting procedures. The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.
- Revises the standard for preliminary injunctions for voting rights court cases, allowing a court at the start of litigation to immediately halt a challenged voting practice until a final ruling. This provision recognizes that when voting rights are at stake, stopping a discriminatory practice after the election has already concluded is too late to vindicate voters’ rights.
- The bill expands the Attorney General’s authority to request federal observers.