It’s rare that you can get Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) to agree on much of anything. The former, after all, introduced the USA PATRIOT Act to the House, and sponsored H.R. 4437, the House-passed bill that would have made “illegal presence” of immigrants a felony, and which prompted huge protests by immigration activists across the country. Conyers, by contrast, is a liberal stalwart who has championed Medicare-for-all and a public jobs program for the unemployed.
But the two, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), are introducing legislation they co-wrote to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The act’s “pre-clearance” process was substantially weakened by a Supreme Court case this last spring. The new bill doesn’t roll back all of that ruling, but it does expand pre-clearance and add other protections currently lacking in the act.
Ari Berman has a summary of what it does (this is just the intro to the summary, click on the link to see the full summary):
1: The legislation draws a new coverage formula for Section 4, thereby resurrecting Section 5. States with five violations of federal law to their voting changes over the past fifteen years will have to submit future election changes for federal approval.
3: The legislation mandates that jurisdictions in all fifty states have to provide notice in the local media and online of any election procedures related to redistricting changes within 180 days of a federal election and the moving of a polling place.
4: The legislation makes it easier to seek a preliminary injunction against a potentially discriminatory voting law.
5: The legislation reaffirms that the attorney general can send federal observers to monitor elections in states subject to Section 4 and expands the AG’s authority to send observers to jurisdictions with a history of discriminating against language minority groups, which includes parts of twenty-five states.
Anything that cracks down on measures to make it harder to vote is a good thing, so I’m pleasantly surprised that Senator Sensenbrenner is co-sponsoring this (perhaps I shouldn’t be, he did help the reauthorization of the VRA pass in 2006). It remains to be seen if this can pass the House (you can see what it might be a problem here).