House Democratic Report Documents Discriminatory Voting Cases

  • Paves way for measure on more Justice oversight of elections
  • Bill named for John Lewis intended to garner broad support

House Democrats took another step toward considering a key voting rights bill by releasing a report documenting dozens of discriminatory election practices.

The move Friday is a prelude to the introduction of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the former lawmaker and civil rights leader. Leaders believe it stands a better chance of gaining bipartisan support than broader election and campaign finance measures.

The report, prepared by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chair of the Committee on House Administration’s Subcommittee on Elections, warns that “states across the country have enacted new, suppressive voting and election administration laws that disproportionately and discriminatorily impact minority voters” since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision weakened part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In that case, Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the formula for which states and local governments in certain parts of the country had to seek Justice Department approval for changes to election-related laws and policies.

Butterfield told reporters Friday that the report will go to the House Judiciary Committee, which will write the bill. Butterfield said he believes the legislation “will be completed and introduced in late August.”

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chair of the House Elections Subcommittee, prepared a report on discriminatory voting practices.

The 132-page report covers discrimination in practices including purging voter rolls, voter ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements, access to multi-lingual voting materials, redistricting, and lengthy waits at polling places.

The John Lewis bill would restore and strengthen the part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act dealing with Justice Department approval of election-related laws and changes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the report is part of “making sure this legislation will be constitutionally iron-clad.”

“We had to do that in a way that could withstand a court challenge and that could take a little more time,” Pelosi told reporters.

Read More: Democrats Build Constitutional Case for New Voting Rights Bill

Under Pressure

Democrats are struggling to find a path forward on more expansive voting rights and elections legislation ( H.R. 1 S. 1) that’s currently stalled in the Senate. Unlike those bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act has the potential support of at least one Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski(Alaska), as well as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the lone Democratic holdout on the broader elections bill.

They’re also under pressure to pass something at the federal level as state governments, most under Republican control, have passed more than two dozen bills restricting the right to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Rep. Elissa Slotkin(D-Mich.) said on CNN she’s been frequently asked by constituents what she’s doing to protect voting rights.

“We’re seeing states across the country who are trying to curb the ability to vote, who are trying to preserve an ability to change the results of an election after the vote has taken place,” Slotkin said in late July. “I’m getting pushed, as are most of my colleagues, about what we’re going to do at the federal level.”

The report comes as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has called a second special session for Saturday to consider voting legislation. State Democratic lawmakers fled to Washington, D.C., in July to prevent Republican leaders from garnering a quorum needed to take up the measure they say would restrict access to voting. The Texas Democrats, who appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference Friday with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), have lobbied congressional Democrats to pass legislation to set voting access standards.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com

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