Two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a pivotal function of the Voting Rights Act (Section 4) as unconstitutional, sending it back to Congress for revision. In response to the Supreme Court ruling, Democratic leader, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will be introducing three pieces of legislation to make voting more accessible for any American.
When Congress enacted the VRA in 1965, it was acknowledged that racial discrimination in voting was more pronounced in certain areas of the country. Section 4(a) of the VRA established a formula that would identify those areas and focus on providing more stringent resolutions in those identified areas.
The first element of the formula identified areas where tests or devices were in place with the effect of restricting and/or hindering the voter’s ability to register and vote. Literacy tests and having to establish “good moral character” were among these “red flag” tests and devices that would identify these problem areas. The second element of the formula was fulfilled where the Director of the Census determined that less than 50% of the voting age population was registered to vote in a given area.
Identified problem areas were required to have their voting laws pre-cleared by the federal government or through federal court. Referring to a 2009 case, The Supreme Court said in a statement, “Congress could have updated the coverage formula….but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”
Senator Schumer told Huffington Post in a statement, “On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we should be celebrating the progress we have made. Unfortunately, the right to vote in this country is still under attack.” Schumer elaborated, presumably in reference to the pending Voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, “In an effort to limit the pool of potential voters, nefarious forces have sought to make it more difficult to get registered to vote, prevent or decrease early voting, and increase bureaucratic hurdles to limit participation at the ballot box. Those efforts are backwards, wrong, and they must be stopped cold.”
Schumer’s first bill would allow all eligible voters to register online in every state, with provisions for voter registration linking for those who move. Schumer’s second bill would establish seven days of early voting in all states, and would no longer require justification for absentee ballots. His third bill would allow same-day voting rights for those moving within the state they are registered to vote in.
Schumer told Huffington Post, “In a polarized Democracy, individuals of all political stripes ought to be able to agree that we should make it as easy as possible for voters to participate in the process,”