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Voting Rights Advancement Act

H.R. 2978; S. 1419

The Problem

In Shelby County v. Holder

in June 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law designed to ensure minority voters across the country are able to participate equally in the electoral process by prohibiting discriminatory voting practices and removing barriers to voting. Among the law’s key provisions was an enforcement mechanism to prevent states with a history of voting discrimination from making changes to voting laws and practices without pre-submitting those changes for review by federal officials. The Supreme Court held that the formula for deciding which states and localities were required to pre-approve changes in voting laws and practices was unconstitutional, which severely weakened the federal government’s oversight of discriminatory voting practices.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, states and localities have brazenly pushed forward discriminatory changes to voting practices, such as changing district boundaries to disadvantage select voters, instituting more onerous voter identification laws, and changing polling locations with little notice. These laws especially disenfranchise people of color, the elderly, low-income people, and people with disabilities. Voters are more vulnerable to discrimination now than any time since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law more than fifty years ago.

LGBTQ People and Voting Discrimination

Transgender people are particularly vulnerable to voting discrimination and disenfranchisement due primarily to challenges around valid identification documents. Many transgender people do not have forms of ID that reflect their gender, either because they are in the process of changing their documents or face financial or legal barriers to doing so. In addition, many LGBTQ people face compounded discrimination based on other characteristics, including race, age, disability, and economic status. These vulnerabilities weaken our entire community’s voting power.

What is the Voting Rights Advancement Act?

Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision was limited in scope and did not bar Congress from creating a new formula. The Voting Rights Advancement Act restores the protections of the Voting Rights Act and responds to the unique, modern day challenges of voting discrimination by:

  • Modernizing the VRA’s preclearance formula to cover states and localities with a pattern of discrimination;

  • Ensuring that last-minute voting changes do not adversely affect voters by requiring jurisdictions to publicly disclose all voting changes that occur 180 days before an election;

  • Expanding the Attorney General’s authority to send federal observers to any jurisdiction where it is believed there is a substantial risk of discrimination at the polls on election day or during an early voting period; and

  • Improving the voting rights for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

What is the Current Status of the Bill?

The Voting Rights Advancement Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) on June 21, 2017, and in the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on June 22, 2017.

 

For more information, please contact legislation@hrc.org. Read about other Federal Legislation pertinent to the LGBTQ community here.

Last Updated: March 29, 2018