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Davis Statement on the Passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act

  • Today, the House passed H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act by a vote of 228-187.  I was an original co-sponsor of this critical bill which finally restores the full strength of the Voting Rights Act, after the disastrous 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Act.
  • More than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was enshrined into law, the sacred right to be heard at the ballot box is under unprecedented threat, after the Shelby County v Holder decision unleashed a flood of state and local voter suppression laws that are silencing the voices of American voters, particularly communities of color.
  • The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy – and we must ensure that every eligible American voter has the ability to have their voice heard.  Indeed, the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution expressly empower the Congress to enact laws protecting the right to vote and guaranteeing the equal protection of all citizens.
  • On October 23, the Judiciary Committee reported the bill to the House on a party-line vote of 19 to 6.  In addition to the extensive work of the Judiciary Committee, the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, chaired by Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), has also done important work on this issue.  In November, the Subcommittee on Elections issued an extensive report on “Voting Rights and Election Administration in the United States of America.”  A manager’s amendment to the bill, which will be adopted by adoption of the rule, reflects some of the significant barriers to voting found through the Subcommittee’s hearings. 
  • This bill is supported by more than 60 national organizations, including the NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NALEO Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Native American Rights Fund, League of Women Voters of the United States, AAUW, ACLU, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Communications Workers of America, SEIU, UAW, Democracy 21, Democracy Initiative, End Citizens United Action Fund, Sierra Club, and League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

 

  • The enactment of H.R. 4 was urgently needed.  An extensive review by the House Judiciary Committee found that, since the Shelby County decision in 2013, at least 23 states have enacted newly restrictive statewide voting laws, which have been shown to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and language-minority communities.  In addition, the excellent report from the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, chaired by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), “Voting Rights and Election Administration in the United States of America,” has also documented the numerous restrictive state and local voting laws adopted across the country since the Shelby County decision.  These suppressive voting laws include restrictions such as: 
  • Strict voter identification laws;
  • Voter registration barriers such as requiring documentary proof of citizenship;
  • Unfairly purging voters from rolls;
  • Curtailing of early voting hours; and
  • Moving or eliminating polling places. 

 

Some of the Key Provisions of H.R. 4

 

  • In June 2013, the Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 decision in Shelby County v Holder effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act’s most important enforcement mechanism – the preclearance requirement contained in Section 5 – by striking down the coverage formula that determined which jurisdictions would be subject to preclearance, stating that the coverage formula was outdated.  In its decision, the Supreme Court invited the Congress to draft another coverage formula “based on current conditions.”

 

  • This bill, in response to the Supreme Court’s invitation to Congress to provide a new coverage formula based on “current conditions,” creates a new coverage formula that hinges on a finding of repeated voting rights violations in the preceding 25 years.  
  • Significantly, the 25-year period is measured on a rolling basis to keep up with “current conditions,” so only states and political subdivisions that have a recent record of racial discrimination in voting are covered.
  • States and political subdivisions that qualify for preclearance will be covered for a period of 10 years, but if they have a clean record during that time period, they can be extracted from coverage.

 

  • The bill also importantly establishes “practice-based preclearance.”  “Practice-based preclearance” would focus administrative or judicial review narrowly on suspect practices that are most likely to be tainted by discriminatory intent or to have discriminatory effects, as demonstrated by a broad historical record.  Under the bill, this process of reviewing changes in voting is limited to a set of specific practices, including such things as:  
  • Changes to the methods of elections (to or from at-large elections) in areas that are racially, ethnically, or linguistically diverse.
  • Redistricting in areas that are racially, ethnically, or linguistically diverse.
  • Reducing, consolidating, or relocating polling in areas that are racially, ethnically, or linguistically diverse; and
  • Changes in documentation or requirements to vote or to register.

 

  • Under the proposed rule for the bill, a manager’s amendment will be added to the bill upon the rule’s adoption, based on work done by the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, chaired by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), that strengthens the bill’s “practice-based preclearance” provisions by adding two additional voting practices to this preclearance provision: 1) a jurisdiction adding a new basis or process for removing a name from the list of active registered voters; and 2) a jurisdiction reducing the days or hours of in-person voting on Sundays during an early voting period.
  • The bill also includes other provisions, such as:  
    • Allowsa federal court to order states or jurisdictions to be covered for results-based violations, where the effect of a particular voting measure is racial discrimination in voting and denying citizens their right to vote;
    • Increases transparency by requiring reasonable public notice for voting changes;
    • Allows the Attorney General authority to request the presence of federal observers anywhere in the country where there is a serious threat of racial discrimination in voting

 

  • Office Locations

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    repName Danny K. Davis  
    helpWithFedAgencyAddress Chicago District Office
    2813-15 W. Fifth Avenue
    Chicago, Illinois 60612
     
    district 7th District of Illinois  
    academyUSCitizenDate July 1, 2017  
    academyAgeDate July 1, 2017  
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