The House Passes HR 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with the gavel (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The House of Representatives has been very busy lately. No, not just with impeachment but with getting important legislation passed.

Despite Mitch McConnell’s persistent lies to the contrary, the House has been churning out and voting on hundreds of bills. (Seriously, I just checked at GovTrack, and the House has passed 341 bills this session so far!) And I want to make sure that everyone knows that at the end of last week, they passed HR 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019.

Why HR 4 is important

To understand why HR 4 is so important, we need to look at some history. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a landmark decision that was the culmination of a lot of work by civil rights groups. You can read my short history of that effort HERE. Central to this effort was to secure the right to vote without barriers. Broadly speaking, the Voting Rights Act made race-based restrictions on voting illegal.

A crucial part of the VRA, Section 4, stipulated that states that had been found to use restrictive voting barriers, such as poll taxes, had to get “preclearance” before enacting any new voting laws. The preclearance essentially acted as a checkpoint and stopped a lot of voter suppression in its tracks.

But earlier this decade, Shelby County in Alabama sued to declare that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, declaring that the formula used to determine if a state needed preclearance was outdated and no longer valid. The case, Shelby County v. Holder went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in a 5-4 decision in 2013, SCOTUS agreed with Shelby County and invalidated the formula in Section 4.

Since the Shelby decision, the number of restrictive voting provisions and voter suppression tactics has skyrocketed. HR 4 was designed to tackle this problem.

What HR 4 does

HR 4 details a new formula to replace the preclearance formula, so that once again, states that have repeated voting rights violations over a 25 year period will have to get special permission to change any voting rules.

It also sets up a process for how new voting rules will be reviewed particularly in areas with a highly diverse population.

To increase transparency, the bill also requires that states give the public a reasonable amount of time to review new voting proposals.

To mark the importance of passing this bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi arranged to have Rep. John Lewis, the legendary civil rights icon who was present at the signing of the original Voting Rights Act, hold the gavel during the vote.

How to help: Pressure the Senate

Now, getting the Senate to pass HR 4 shouldn’t be hard. Well, in a previous era it wouldn’t have been hard. I say that because the original Voting Rights Act needed to get reauthorized on a regular basis, and the last time the Senate voted to reauthorize it (in 2006), it passed 98-0. But in today’s hyper-partisan environment this will likely be an uphill climb. In the House last week, exactly 1 Republican voted for the legislation.

Nevertheless, HR 4 aims to eliminate voter suppression, and I think that is a cause worth fighting for. Call you Senator and ask them to 1) pressure Mitch McConnell to bring the legislation to the floor, and 2) tell them that you want them to vote Yes.

Thank you for fighting for voting rights!

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3 replies

  1. Excellent points. I’ve always felt that John Roberts was so off base when he pretty much declared that racism was no longer an issue in that Shelby case. Surely, none of those states would ever do those kinds of things again, right? You’re so correct, in years past, this bill would be a no-brainer. Now? Wow, we’ve gone so far backwards.

    • This vote really does demonstrate how partisan we’ve gotten. The Republicans are openly voting to continue to allow voter suppression across the nation.

  2. Reblogged this on Bennet Kelley's Clippings & More and commented:
    Six years after Shelby County, the House finally votes to correct its holding.

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