When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key formula in the Voting Rights Act last year, Chief Justice John Roberts had a constructive but not entirely practical suggestion: “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.” Against all odds, this Congress — on track to be the least productive in modern history — actually came up with a new formula. Unfortunately, it could do more harm than good. The old formula dictated which states and counties were subject to more stringent requirements under the Voting Rights Act, now almost half a century old. The law protects the voting rights of all Americans but — until the court’s decision — paid special attention to election rules and practices in eight states and parts of seven others, mostly in the South. Because of their history of disenfranchisement, those districts were required to get “preclearance” from the federal government for any changes to election practices, including ID requirements and polling hours.
The court’s decision rightly noted that the law’s formula for identifying which districts were subject to preclearance was outdated. It captured places (New York City, for example) that long ago demonstrated a commitment to protecting voting rights while failing to cover states (Kansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and most of Florida) that lie at the heart of the today’s voting-rights debate.
Yet the new formula proposed by Congress would do more to help lawyers than voters. Under the bill, the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week, five voting rights violations in the past 15 years (at least one committed by state government) would subject a state to preclearance. This would leave many of the states that have stirred voting rights controversies untouched. The bill would also subject localities to preclearance if, over the same 15-year period, they committed just one violation and minority voter turnout was lower than the national or state average for minority or white voters.
Full Article: Give Voters a Bill of Rights – Bloomberg View.