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house Bill H.R. 4

Should the Voting Rights Act be Strengthened?

Argument in favor

The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder severely weakened the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which up until then had been the key protection ensuring that everyone — particularly minorities — gets the same access to the ballot box. This bill would help to ensure that states with a history of voter suppression don’t take steps to restrict voting access in future elections.

jimK's Opinion
···
12/06/2019
Yes, voting rights must be protected. Voting right violations due to inherent bias, intentional acts to favor particular candidates, complacent state oversight or corrupt officials must be monitored and corrected for elections generally and national elections especially. It is in the National interest to assure that the vote accurately reflects the will of all of the people. I think that the new provisions should address prior court concerns. So many instances of corrupt officials manipulating voting practices have been documented lately that federal oversight is warranted. Note that there have been no, none, nada reported instances of non-citizens sneaking into polls to swing votes or to vote multiple times under different identities despite the Republican fantasied conspiracy theories that are often repeated. All of the vote corruptions have occurred by intimidation at the polls, selectively voiding votes by people who didn’t make ‘pretty enough’ signatures exactly within the lines, locating polling sites miles away from communities whose votes State officials didn’t want to count, the collecting of absentee ballots from elderly and changing or discarding their votes, discarding absentee ballots and of course hanging chads. All of these involved corrupt practices of state or local officials; and these acts alone warrant federal oversight to protect the people and ensure that national elections truly reflect the will of all of the people. … … … OMG, I forget to mention gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is EVIL manipulation of the outdated Electoral College system which contorts the National vote away from the ‘will of the people’ or the ‘will of the majority of the people’, to the ‘will of the tiniest minority of people who happen to live in a few key swing districts’. We have seen several presidential elections won by the the electoral college and not the majority of voters as well as the deployment of military grade psy-ops disinformation campaigns that target specific individuals within these critical districts to guide their vote. Reason enough for me to want to abolish the electoral college altogether as well as eliminating the ‘erasure’ of state voters in the minority by state winner takes all practices- which is one of the most easily abused aspects of fair voting practices.
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Cl's Opinion
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12/06/2019
Protect our voting rights. Now more than ever, the right of every American to have equal access to the voting booth is under threat. Make Election Day a holiday, too!
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Cyndi's Opinion
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12/06/2019
Voting rights are under attack by entities that want to control election outcomes by suppressing the rights of voters less likely to vote for their party. Voter suppression is a grave threat to our democracy and voting rights MUST Be protected.
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Argument opposed

The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder was properly decided, as the Court ruled that the VRA’s requirements were no longer needed given changes to the law and the U.S. itself since the VRA’s enactment in 1965. This bill would unnecessarily politicize election administration and give the federal government too much control over a state-level issue.

Ronald's Opinion
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12/06/2019
This was an outdated law, for an outdated problem. Work on the current problem: pass a strong voter photo ID law. With early, absentee, mail in, and election day voting. We have made voting easy enough to make voter fraud the true problem,
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Marshall's Opinion
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12/06/2019
We need to know that only US citizens are voting.
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operaman's Opinion
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12/06/2019
Strengthening the Voting Act would be a national standards for Voter ID.
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What is House Bill H.R. 4?

This bill — the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 — would seek to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which struck down one of the VRA’s key provisions. It would aim to accomplish that through the establishment of new criteria for requiring preclearance of changes to voting practices in states and political subdivisions of states.

Under this bill, a state and all of its political subdivisions would be subject to preclearance of voting practice changes for a 10-year period if: 

  • 15 or more voting rights violations occurred in the state during the previous 25 years; or
  • 10 or more violations, at least one of which was committed by the state itself,  occurred during the previous 25 years.

Additionally, a political subdivision would also be subject to preclearance for a 10-year period if three or more voting rights violations occurred there during the previous 25 years. 

A state or political subdivision that obtains a declaratory judgment that it has not used a voting practice to deny or abridge the right to vote would be exempt from preclearance. 

Furthermore, this bill would specify that certain practices that are known to be discriminatory must be must be precleared before any jurisdictions implement them. These policies would include the creation of at-large districts, provision of inadequate multilingual voting materials, and cuts to polling places.

The bill would also expand the circumstances under which a court may retain the authority to preclear voting changes made by a state or political subdivision, or the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) may assign election observers to enforce the guarantees of the 14th or 15th Amendments or any other federal law protecting U.S. citizens’ right to vote.

This bill would also require states and political subdivisions to notify the public of changes to voting practices. Finally, it would revise the circumstances under which a court must grant preliminary injunctive relief in a challenge to voting practices.

Under the terms of this bill, 11 states — Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia — would be identified as meriting a return to federal oversight of any electoral changes they want to make.

Impact

Voters; election districts; election officials; states’ political subdivisions; states; elections; and voter protections.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 4

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSponsoring Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced this bill to help address the most egregious forms of recent voter suppression by developing a process to determine which states and localities with a recent history of voting rights violations must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice: 

“In my hometown of Selma and throughout Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, Americans bled, marched and died for the right to vote, but the modern-day voter suppression we saw in the 2018 mid-term elections shows that old battles have become new again. Since the Supreme Court’s Shelby vs. Holder decision, many states have enacted more restrictive voting laws that have led us in the wrong direction. The Voting Rights Advancement Act helps protect and advance the legacy of those brave foot soldiers of the civil rights movement by restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and empowering the Justice Department to stop voter suppression tactics before they go into place.”

Senate sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says

“Nearly 54 years ago next week, on March 7, a courageous band of civil rights activists – including my friend and hero, Congressman John Lewis – began a march for the right to vote from Selma to Montgomery. They marched non-violently in the face of unspeakable violence. On that Bloody Sunday, they shed their blood for the ballot. But we gather today for much more than a vital history lesson. We assemble today for a call to action. Voter suppression efforts are unacceptable and un-American. But because of a disastrous Supreme Court decision, they are almost impossible to stop. The Voting Right Advancement Act we are introducing today would restore and bolster the Voting Rights Act, and undo the damage done by the Shelby County decision.” 

After this bill passed the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said

"The right to vote lies at the very core of our democracy and is foundational to the rule of law. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many states and localities implemented voter suppression measures aimed at African Americans and other people of color, secure in the knowledge that it could take many years before these measures could be successfully challenged in court, if at all.  In response, Congress required certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get approval, or a preclearance requirement, from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to their voting laws or practices. But the Shelby County decision in 2013—which gutted the preclearance requirement—unleashed a deluge of voter suppression laws across the nation.  H.R. 4 provides a much-needed restoration of those protections to finally reverse this tide of voter suppression laws. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments expressly empower us to enact laws protecting the right to vote and guaranteeing the equal protection of all citizens, and I am proud to have led the House Judiciary Committee in successfully recommending this legislation to the full House."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) expressed support for this bill in his November 8, 2019 letter to House members

“[T]his work period, I expect the House to take up H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019. This legislation will restore the Voting Rights Act to its full strength after it was undermined by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013. Every American should be able to exercise their right to vote. The Voting Rights Advancement Act will strengthen voting rights and prevent voter discrimination and suppression tactics.” 

The Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) strongly supports this bill. Todd A. Cox, Policy Director at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., says: 

“The Voting Rights Advancement Act is a voter protection bill that our democracy requires. There is no disputing the fact that the destructive Supreme Court decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder invited numerous states to unleash voter suppression tactics that had not been allowed for nearly 50 years, particularly in parts of our country with the worst records of racial discrimination in voting. From foreign interference in elections to voter purges, intimidation, and strict ID laws – the fragility of our electoral system has truly been exposed and the need for reforms never more pressing. Evidence of widespread discrimination against Black voters is overwhelming and growing, and the need for legislative action is urgent. Congress must do its job and fully consider the VRAA and ultimately restore this indispensable democracy checkpoint. Earlier this year, Congress also introduced H.R. 1, a critical set of election reforms that would significantly expand voter access. Together, H.R. 1 and the VRAA provide many of the needed protections to ensure our political process is accessible to all.”

University of Chicago Law School professor Travis Crum says that this bill’s “rolling formula,” which would automate itself automatically to identify which jurisdictions need to submit changes to voting laws for preapproval from either a D.C.-based federal court of the DOJ before implementing such changes, would target the “most recent and worst offenders.”

In their minority views to this bill’s committee report, House Judiciary Committee Republicans argued that this bill would give the DOJ and Attorney General too much power; politicize the process of setting election procedures; and punish all political subdivisions within a state for a single political subdivision’s misbehavior. They also argued that existing law is sufficient to protect voters’ rights and that this bill isn’t constitutional: 

“Existing law already protects Americans from voting discrimination: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act allows lawsuits, even those based on disparate impacts, to stop [s]tate and local voting laws, including through preliminary injunctions; and Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act allows federal judges across the country to put jurisdictions under preclearance requirements when those jurisdictions have a record of actual discrimination in voting. In sum, [this bill] unconstitutionally creates a system in which a politicized Department of Justice can federalize control over [s]tate and local elections when there is no evidence the [s]tate or locality engaged in actual discriminatory conduct.” 

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) argues that while discriminatory voting restrictions are wrong, this bill would prohibit states from enforcing even neutral voting laws, thereby “unconstitutionally deny[ing] states and localities control” of elections regardless of whether those laws are discriminatory. Johnson — like many Republicans — specifically criticizes this bill’s automatic requirement that voter ID laws be precleared, calling it “federal fiat.” Finally, he argues that the DOJ has a “history of politicizing” preclearance, which has allowed it to amend or veto state laws to benefit whichever party is in power. 

This legislation passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 19-6 vote on October 23, 2019 with the support of 229 Democratic House cosponsors. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has 45 Senate cosponsors, including 43 Democrats and two Independents, and hasn’t yet received a committee vote.

Senate Republicans aren’t expected to move on this legislation, in part because of the provision requiring automatic preclearance of voter ID laws. In an indication of Republicans’ opposition to this legislation, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) — who sponsored the last VRA reauthorization in 2006 and has introduced alternate legislation, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2019 (H.R.1799) to amend the VRA without some of this legislation’s provisions — calls this legislation a “poison pill” that “won’t go anywhere in the Senate.”

A range of civil rights and voters’ advocacy groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Brennan Center for Justice; Human Rights Campaign (HRC); National Urban League; Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC); National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund; Native American Rights Fund (NARF); National Education Association (NEA); Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF); NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., support this legislation.

Last Congress, this legislation had 193 Democratic House cosponsors. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Leahy, had 49 Senate cosponsors, including 46 Democrats, one Republican, and two Independents. Neither bill received a committee vote. 


Of NoteThe Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which outlined the qualifications needed to determine which states are required by the Justice Department to preclear elections changes in states with a history of voter discrimination. 

In their ruling, the five-member majority said the formula used in Section 4 of the VRA imposed extraordinary burdens on state and local governments based on outdated conditions. Part of Chief Justice John Roberts’ rationale in the majority opinion was that the law has so dramatically changed circumstances that preclearance, at least under the decades-old formula, was no longer appropriate.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented, said that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Since the Shelby decision, nearly 24 states have implemented restrictive voter ID laws; and previously-covered states have closed or consolidated polling places, shortened early voting, and imposed other measures that restrict voting. During the 2018 election, voters of color across the U.S. complained of unusual barriers to voting ahead of Election Day, including:

  • An “exact match” voter ID rule requiring the information on a government-issued ID card like a driver’s license or Social Security card to match up exactly with the name and information on a voter registration application, down to hyphens and typos in Georgia, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp administered the state’s election while running against Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor (Kemp ultimately won in a tight victory). This led to 53,000 names being purged from the voting rolls due to a mismatch between the voter rolls and their ID cards.
  • A voter ID law forcing voters to produce a street address (which those living on Native American reservations aren’t required to have) in North Dakota, which sent Native voters into a scramble to provide street addresses and ran the risk of disenfranchising an entire group of minority voters.
  • Other legal challenges about restrictive voter ID laws also cropped up in New Hampshire, Missouri, Florida, and North Carolina.

Rep. Sewell argues that voter suppression in Georgia changed the outcome of the state’s governor’s race

“Stacey Abrams is not governor of Georgia today because of voter suppression that took place in that state. The Republicans have realized that when you limit access to certain populations and they don’t vote, you have a better chance of winning. That’s the bottom line.”

In September 2018, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) released a report examining the state of voting rights in the U.S. It found that in states across the country — and especially in states previously covered by the VRA — voter suppression tactics are trampling minority rights. Due to its findings, the Commission unanimously called on Congress to restore and expand voter protections in the VRA. 

While congressional rebuke of Supreme Court decisions via legislation isn’t unheard of, the pace at which Congress has chosen to override Supreme Court rulings has slowed down in recent years, largely to the polarization of the U.S. political system (both houses of Congress need to come to a bipartisan consensus for a statutory override). However, William & Mary law professor Neal Devins notes, “Some of the most notable overrides include protections of minority interests such as voting, religious minorities, and woman in the Title VII employment discrimination context.” For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were both born out of a desire to upend unpopular high court decisions.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / adamkaz)

AKA

Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019

Official Title

To amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to revise the criteria for determining which States and political subdivisions are subject to section 4 of the Act, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house Passed December 6th, 2019
    Roll Call Vote 228 Yea / 187 Nay
      house Committees
      Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedFebruary 26th, 2019

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    Yes, voting rights must be protected. Voting right violations due to inherent bias, intentional acts to favor particular candidates, complacent state oversight or corrupt officials must be monitored and corrected for elections generally and national elections especially. It is in the National interest to assure that the vote accurately reflects the will of all of the people. I think that the new provisions should address prior court concerns. So many instances of corrupt officials manipulating voting practices have been documented lately that federal oversight is warranted. Note that there have been no, none, nada reported instances of non-citizens sneaking into polls to swing votes or to vote multiple times under different identities despite the Republican fantasied conspiracy theories that are often repeated. All of the vote corruptions have occurred by intimidation at the polls, selectively voiding votes by people who didn’t make ‘pretty enough’ signatures exactly within the lines, locating polling sites miles away from communities whose votes State officials didn’t want to count, the collecting of absentee ballots from elderly and changing or discarding their votes, discarding absentee ballots and of course hanging chads. All of these involved corrupt practices of state or local officials; and these acts alone warrant federal oversight to protect the people and ensure that national elections truly reflect the will of all of the people. … … … OMG, I forget to mention gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is EVIL manipulation of the outdated Electoral College system which contorts the National vote away from the ‘will of the people’ or the ‘will of the majority of the people’, to the ‘will of the tiniest minority of people who happen to live in a few key swing districts’. We have seen several presidential elections won by the the electoral college and not the majority of voters as well as the deployment of military grade psy-ops disinformation campaigns that target specific individuals within these critical districts to guide their vote. Reason enough for me to want to abolish the electoral college altogether as well as eliminating the ‘erasure’ of state voters in the minority by state winner takes all practices- which is one of the most easily abused aspects of fair voting practices.
    Like (143)
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    This was an outdated law, for an outdated problem. Work on the current problem: pass a strong voter photo ID law. With early, absentee, mail in, and election day voting. We have made voting easy enough to make voter fraud the true problem,
    Like (49)
    Follow
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    Protect our voting rights. Now more than ever, the right of every American to have equal access to the voting booth is under threat. Make Election Day a holiday, too!
    Like (78)
    Follow
    Share
    Voting rights are under attack by entities that want to control election outcomes by suppressing the rights of voters less likely to vote for their party. Voter suppression is a grave threat to our democracy and voting rights MUST Be protected.
    Like (77)
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    Voting rights MUST be protected. Sadly, even in this day and age, we have people doing everything possible to thwart the right to vote. We are supposed to progress not regress.
    Like (41)
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    It is hard to believe that in 2019 we still have people who want to stymie people from voting. Yes if this law really helps enforce voting freedom. But generally it looks like they don’t find out until after the elections and the corrupt folks are already in office.
    Like (37)
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    We need to know that only US citizens are voting.
    Like (35)
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    I support HR 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act. The original Voting Rights Act was paramount to our success as a democracy and should be strengthened at all costs rather than weakened. The purpose of the VRA was to ensure that all people are able to vote. Through the years and over time, and this in not a Trump-specific phenomenon; Republicans have taken to doing their best to reduce and stifle the number of minority or other demographic group voters that do not typically lean Republican, for example people of color or college students. I can say this is of Republican doing for a very simple reason; the minority groups targeted typically support Democrats. When you target a specific demographic(s) by making voting more and more difficult for them, ultimately they don’t vote and the end result is that the group doing the targeting receives an unfair advantage by having to deal with fewer opposition voters. HR 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act essentially places us back in the right direction after the VRA was severely hurt by an errant 2013 Supreme Court ruling. I’m particularly happy to see stringent preclearance periods indicative of the seriousness of this bill. If this bill passes, it will be interesting to see for how long it languishes in the black hole calendar of Senator McConnell.
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    ARE YOU KIDDING? HAVE YOU NOT NOTICED STATES ( LIKE MY STATE OF GEORGIA) WHO ARE SUMMARILY PURGING VOTERS FROM VOTING LISTS? “ENHANCING “ VOTER ID’S? PROPOSING BLOCKAGE OF COLLEGE STUDENTS FROM VOTING? GERRYMANDERING DISTRICTS? STEALING ELECTIONS ( KEMP OF GEORGIA...SO CALLED “ELECTED GOVERNOR “!) ENFORCE THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT!!!
    Like (28)
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    We need voter ID
    Like (25)
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    Yes our voting rights should be strengthened. But republicans know they only way they win is by cheating. So I doubt any legislation to strengthen them will be passed. Cheaters gonna cheat. That’s the republican motto!
    Like (25)
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    Strengthening the Voting Act would be a national standards for Voter ID.
    Like (24)
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    The Republicans have made a concerted effort to restrict, limit by any means and reduce the number polling stations. These efforts are mostly directed at minorities or gerrymandering states to favor Republican candidates. They’ve weakened law ensure voting rights claiming that they are no longer needed while trying to rig elections in their favor. We need laws that favor no party and ensure that every persons vote counts equally. The penalties for rig or attempting to rig an election should be sever.
    Like (23)
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    When the Supreme Court removed spending limits in election campaigns, it took away the ability for the majority of the population to match the level of donations to elected officials with the contributions of the extremely rich. When the Supreme Court determined that corporations were citizens, it violated the very framework of the Constitution, which enshrines the right that all men are created equal and therefore should, be represented equally. Only Congress can act to correct those horrible mistakes. But when you have a Senate that refuses to act on vital legislation to better the lives of citizens, the only thing citizens have left is the vote. To preserve any human rights over corporate rights in the United States of America, this Congress should protect and encourage voter participation to the fullest. Anything else is hypocrisy.
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    Of course it should! It's our right to vote. It's our right for our voting to be protected and counted. We are not russia!!!
    Like (16)
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    We must restore fairness in voting, the heart and soul of this country.
    Like (16)
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    Support HR 4 Terri Sewell Strengthen Voting Rights Montana Rep Greg Gianforte carelessly VOTES NAY Kathleen Williams 2020
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    Thank you for your vote to help support voters’ rights. The gerrymandering, purposeful disenfranchisement of People of Color, and the attempts of both the White House and much of the Republican Party to establish a dictatorship under the corporotacracy and present oligarchy are terrifying. One of our few tools of resistance is voting.
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    YES, very definitely. The Voting Rights Act, which helped thousands, millions of people to be able to vote, was severely injured when the provision (5?) about sanctioning states who thwart minorities voting, was deemed not applicable anymore (because the problem was solved?), and eliminated from the Act. It was a severe and the latest in the repub strategy for keeping minorities (who almost always vote Dem, because the Democratic Party is for equal rights) away from the polls. All has been harder at voting time since then. WHY are more Dem votes recorded, but more repub reps sent to Congress? -- unfairly-drawn districts, consolidating and weighting districts (HUGE PROBLEM), but also the Voting Rights Act which was foremost in evening out voting early on, ... must be fixed, put right, amended again.
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    What has occurred in the area of voting decisions since Shelby Couny v Holder shows it was wrongly decided. Republican states have used that decision to severely restrict voting access for specific group, disenfranchise others, and make voting as difficult as possible for anyone who they see as a potential threat to their power. “We the People” should mean just that. Our founding documents do not read “We the wealthy, white, and powerful.”
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