Post submitted by Remington A. Gregg, former HRC Legislative Counsel
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the urgent need for Congress to act to protect voting rights – one year to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated a key provision in the Voting Rights Act.
In the wake of the ShelbyCounty decision, many human and civil rights organizations worked with Members of Congress to craft the Voting Rights Amendment Act, a bipartisan, flexible, modern, nationwide solution to the problem of discrimination in voting. HRC is proud to support the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). The legislation would provide new tools to get ahead of voting discrimination before it occurs and ensure that any proposed election changes are transparent. Unfortunately, leaders in the House of Representatives have refused to schedule a hearing in order to start the legislative process – even though voting changes in seven states have raised concerns about voting discrimination just since the Shelby County decision was announced. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has detailed these and other issues in a report on recent voting violations state-by-state. The report can be found here. These findings clearly illustrate the continuing problems that voters face and demonstrate the need for a modern and effective Voting Rights Act.
Voting discrimination – which is sadly still real and ongoing – acutely affects the LGBT community. Transgender individuals are particularly vulnerable to voting discrimination, and may refuse to vote rather than out themselves or submit to burdensome and transphobic voting laws. In addition, many LGBT people of color suffer from voting discrimination based on race. These vulnerabilities weaken the entire LGBT community’s voting power. Thus, the VRAA will provide the tools necessary to once again fully protect against voting discrimination.
The VRAA is a bipartisan piece of legislation – introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). HRC thanks Rep. Sensenbrenner and Sen. Leahy for taking a significant step in protecting voting rights, and urges House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte to schedule a hearing on the VRAA. It is time to pass legislation to ensure that the Voting Rights Act is fully enforced. In its majority opinion, the Supreme Court invited Congress to revise the Voting Rights Act within the confines given by the Court. The VRAA does this, and every day that Congress fails to act is another day that voters are at risk of being kept from the polls.