The Bi-Partisan Voting Rights Act Legislation Explained

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By Katie Moore, Legal Clerk

Heard about the new bi-partisan Voting Rights Act legislation that was recently introduced? Wondering what it does and how to help? You have come to the right place. Below we explain what the fuss is all about and even better, you can sign up to take action here.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Sensbrenner (R-WI) as HR3899 on Thursday, January 16th as a response to Chief Justice Robert’s invitation in Shelby County v. Holder to Congress to modernize the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court recently struck down a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act because they believed the formula for deciding which states must have all of their election laws cleared by the federal government before going into effect, was out dated.

If passed, this Bill would implement five important new provisions: (1) The new rolling preclearance formula provision; (2) The expanded judicial bail-in provision; (3) The notice and disclosure provision; (4) The enhanced preliminary injunctive relief provision; (5) The expanded department of justice provision.

The new rolling pre-clearance formula provision is intended to cover jurisdictions that have recent egregious voting records. The new trigger requires States that have five violations within the past fifteen years be subject to pre-clearance.  Also, sub-divisions that are found to have egregious voting records, but whose entire state jurisdictions are not subject to pre-clearance, may still be subject to pre-clearance themselves if they either have three violations in the past five years, or if they have had one violation coupled with persistent extremely low minority voter turnout. Currently, four states will be subject to pre-clearance: Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.  Currently, two sub-divisions will be subject to pre-clearance: North Hampton, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina.

The expanded judicial bail-in provision allows a court to order new pre-clearance due to discriminatory results as well as due to discriminatory intent. This means a violation will occur regardless of whether the violation was intentional or not, which means it will be easier to cover new States.

The notice and disclosure provision will apply nationwide and will impose a notice requirement in jurisdictions that will have a meaningful impact on voters.

The enhanced preliminary injunctive relief provision will change the standard for getting relief. It will allow Plaintiffs to stop a voting change prior to an election by getting an injunction against a potentially discriminatory voting law when they can make a showing that the change is likely to result in discrimination.

The expanded department of justice provision will grant additional authority for the Department of Justice to deploy federal observers to jurisdictions that are more likely to have violations. This will have a substantial impact on offering protections for the nation’s language minority communities and will provide substantial knowledge about whether languages are being properly provided at polling locations.

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