National: Sen. Grassley: No Need To Fix Voting Rights Act Since ‘More Minorities Are Already Voting’ | Huffington Post

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday he doesn’t expect to bring up legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, because lots of minority people are already voting. During an event at the National Press Club, Grassley was asked about the committee considering a bill that would fix the landmark 1965 law. The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the law in 2013, ruling that it needed to be updated. The section determined which states and localities with a history of suppressing minority voters had to get permission from the Justice Department to change their voting laws. The justices instructed Congress to come up with a new formula for designating which regions of the country warrant special scrutiny. Grassley dismissed the idea that there’s a need to act.

National: Senators spar over the need for new voting rights legislation | Los Angeles Times

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate argued bitterly Wednesday about the need for a new law to protect the voting rights of minorities. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on proposed legislation to resuscitate a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago. The court invalidated the system whereby most Southern states were required to clear changes to their voting laws in advance with the Justice Department. The new bill would attempt to get around the court’s objections by creating a new system in which any state with more than five voting rights violations in the previous 15 years would have to seek “pre-clearance.” Currently only Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana would be covered, which provoked outrage from Texas’ two senators, who both sit on the committee. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked why only four states would be covered, and not others such as Minnesota, which is represented on the committee by two Democrats. “Every state is covered by this if they violate the law five times in 15 years,” replied Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn).

National: GOP senators oppose voting law update | Gannett

The Voting Rights Act, which enjoyed strong bipartisan support for nearly a half-century, divided senators along party lines Wednesday as they debated whether minority voters still face enough threats to warrant updating the landmark law. Democrats, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said attempts to undermine minority voters remain pervasive, even if they’re less blatant than the tactics used when the law first passed in 1965. “Since 2010, 22 states have passed new voting restrictions that make it more difficult to vote,” Leahy said, citing a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, seven of those have new restrictions in place.”

Editorials: In Defense of a Voting Rights Act Amendment | Heather Gerken/National Journal

It’s rare to see something new on the Hill these days. Congress is all but paralyzed, everyone is wary of proposing legislation, and members of Congress have never been known for thinking outside the box. And yet the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA)–Cong. James Sensenbrenner’s bipartisan effort to revive Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was effectively eviscerated by the Supreme Court last summer–was introduced earlier this year. And it offers a new paradigm for civil rights enforcement. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will open a hearing where activists, legislators, and other interested parties will share ideas about just what sort of Voting Rights Act changes are sorely needed. Whether the VRAA succeeds, or even manages to become law, is anyone’s guess. But provisions of the bill are worth watching closely because they could reproduce some of the magic of the old Section 5. Section 5 used to require certain jurisdictions (mostly states in the Deep South) to ask the federal government’s permission before making a change in the way they ran elections. Until a rule was “precleared,” it could not be implemented. This unusual provision solved the central problem of voting-rights enforcement during the Civil Rights era–keeping up with the increasingly creative strategies recalcitrant localities used to disenfranchise voters. Every time a court deemed one discriminatory practice illegal, local officials would switch to another. Section 5 allowed the Department of Justice to get one step ahead of local official

Editorials: Congress should vote for the right to vote | Miles Rapoport/The Hill

It’s hard to believe. In our sixth year with an African-American president, one-half century after passage of the Civil Rights Act and the bloody “Freedom Summer” of 1964, some Americans are still being denied the right to vote or facing government-erected obstacles to their exercise of the right on account of their race. Some states have adopted voter ID laws imposing unneeded requirements that tens of thousands of qualified voters can’t meet. Some have shortened voting hours or eliminated “early voting” days intended to accommodate people who’ll be out of town or can’t get away from their jobs on Election Day. Some persist in using outmoded, prone-to-malfunction voting machines that force would-be voters to stand in line for hours in order to cast their ballots. Those of us who were around 50 years ago this week, when the landmark civil rights law was passed, knew it wouldn’t be easy for the country to overcome its long, shameful history of discrimination. We were sad, but not surprised, when the hundreds of college kids who went south in that summer of ‘64 to work for civil rights were beaten and spat upon — and in three cases murdered. But we also had plenty of reason for hope, including the presence of a strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress in support of civil rights, and voting rights laws in particular. Where today’s Congress is all but paralyzed by partisanship, Capitol Hill in 1964 was a place where Democrats and Republicans often found ways to compromise on behalf of the public interest. There is a chance this week to advance the difficult work of recapturing that spirit, and a new struggle for voting rights provides it.

National: Senate debates voting rights proposal | USA Today

In the year since the Supreme Court ended close federal oversight of elections in Alabama and some other states, discrimination against minority voters has crept back into place, voting rights advocates say. “The result of that decision is that minority voters have been left without critically needed voting protections for an entire year,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony Wednesday that, because the Justice Department is no longer looking over their shoulder, several local and state governments around the country have restricted some people’s access to the ballot box.

National: Voting Rights Act Fix Stalled in Congress |

Nearly one year after the US Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s core provision and six months before a crucial midterm election, a bill to restore many of the VRA’s key protections remains stalled in Congress. The primary roadblock is House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who has yet to hold a hearing on the measure. Reports indicate Goodlatte and other GOP leaders have claimed restoring Section 5 — which required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain certification that a proposed voting change would not hurt minorities — is unnecessary because the VRA’s Section 2 provides adequate protection, MSNBC reported. Advocates contend Section 2 is not enough for a number of reasons, including that challenges must be done on a case-by-case basis, which is inefficient, costly and will allow some discriminatory changes to fall through the cracks.

National: Bipartisan group begins effort to restore parts of Voting Rights Act | Los Angeles Times

Lawmakers announced Thursday bipartisan legislation that would restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act that were thrown out by the Supreme Court last summer. The bill would also establish new criteria to determine whether states need to seek federal approval for proposed changes to voting rules. The legislation is a response to the high court’s ruling in June that Southern states had been unfairly singled out by the long-standing formula used to determine which states must seek federal “pre-clearance” before changing their voting laws. The proposed legislation would establish a new trigger. Any state that is found to have committed five voting violations over a 15-year period would be subject to federal scrutiny of any new voting laws for a period of 10 years. It would also allow states to create “reasonable” photo identification laws. Four states would be subject to the law immediately upon enactment: Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

National: Lawmakers to Introduce Bipartisan Voting Rights Act Fix | Roll Call

Several months after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers plans to introduce a legislative fix on Thursday afternoon. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made a passing reference to developments on the VRA front at a news conference earlier in the day. “I want to say that I’m pleased with what I see as bipartisan progress — and that’s a good thing — that’s being made on addressing the Voting Rights Act, and I think we’re going to be hearing an announcement on that later today,” Pelosi said. “I’m not here to announce it, but I’m here to say what’s occurred in briefings and meetings we’ve had. While it’s not the bill everyone will love, it is bipartisan, it is progress and it is worthy of support.” Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., confirmed Pelosi’s remarks while heading into the House chamber, adding that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., are the sponsors.

National: Sensenbrenner Sees GOP Support to Rewrite Voting Law |

Although many congressional Republicans so far have been noncommittal about rewriting an invalidated section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said Wednesday that “a lot” of them want to do so. Sensenbrenner is the most prominent among a small number of GOP lawmakers who have urged a congressional rewrite of the statute after the Supreme Court partially struck it down in June. But that doesn’t mean other Republicans are not willing to join him in his effort, he told CQ Roll Call in an interview. “There are a lot of Republicans who are [on board], but they don’t want to be publicly named,” said Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former Judiciary Committee chairman and architect of the 2006 compromise to reauthorize the voting law. “There’s a lot of pressure, and I’m happy to take that.” Sensenbrenner said he has “no idea” when the first legislative language of a rewrite might appear, but said “we’re going to start talking about drafts after the recess.” He and other negotiators — including two Democratic working groups in the House — will need to address two basic questions, he said.

Editorials: No, Congress Won’t Fix The Voting Rights Act. Here’s Why. | TPM

Ever since the Supreme Court gutted a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act and threw it back in Congress’s lap, lawmakers in both parties have engaged in happy talk about the prospects of patching the provision used to proactively snuff out voter discrimination against minorities in the state and local governments where it’s most prevalent. But it’s looking less and less likely that a fix will be agreed to because Republicans have little to gain and a lot to lose politically if they cooperate. “Ain’t gonna happen,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said late last week, according to Roll Call. A recent House Judiciary Committee hearing made clear that Republicans have little to no interest in reconstituting the Voting Rights Act. Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-TX) opened by emphasizing that even after the Supreme Court’s decision, “other very important provisions of the Voting Rights Act remain in place.”

National: Many Republican no-shows at Voting Rights Act Hearing |

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were mostly no-shows at Wednesday’s high-profile hearing on restoring a portion of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court last month. The Republicans chalked up their absence to scheduling confusion. With a brief appearance, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the only Republican to join Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and a packed room to hear testimony about updating formulas in the 1965 law that required jurisdictions in 15 states to clear changes to voting procedures with the Justice Department. “I actually was asking my staff, I think that may have been an oversight,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who sits on the committee, said. “I think that might have been an oversight because I had other scheduling, other matters scheduled.”

National: Senator Leahy to seek answers to Voting Rights Act | Associated Press

MIDDLESEX — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy says he’s been consulting constitutional scholars since he’s been home in Vermont to see if they have suggestions about how to protect minority voting rights that many feel were threatened by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned part of the Voting Rights Act. Leahy, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he had consulted both liberal and conservative legal experts from around the country and he would encourage a range of witnesses at upcoming hearings of the committee. “I have no idea what the best answer is,” Leahy said Monday during an interview in Middlesex. “Then I can honestly say to both Republicans and Democrats, ‘Look, you call the witnesses you want, we’ll call witnesses. Let’s see if there is an answer,’ rather than saying this is the way it’s going to be, because it is entirely new ground.”

National: Democrats Set Wheels In Motion On Revising Voting Rights Act | TPM

The unusual nature of the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act has created a kind of limbo for conservatives in southern states who want to flood their legislatures with voter ID laws and other disenfranchising policies, and thrown into Congress’ lap an unexpected issue that will have enormous ramifications for the 2014 elections and beyond. Where this all ends, nobody knows, but we’re beginning to see how it starts. Congressional Democrats are already setting wheels in motion to fix the damage the Court did to the Voting Rights Act, but they’re prepared for a long and complex haul. Because Democrats only control one chamber of Congress, they’re effectively confined to beginning the process in the Senate, which is why early statements from Senate Dems refer to action they plan to take, while House Dems are stuck pressing Republicans to take the issue seriously. But that’s enough to sketch out a roadmap by which they might successfully re-establish pre-clearance standards under Voting Rights Act.

National: Goodlatte unsure if Congress will take up Voting Rights Act | CNN

The House will hold hearings on the Voting Rights Act in July, following the Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down a central part of the landmark law, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte told CNN Sunday. The Virginia Republican said he doesn’t know whether Congress will work to change the law so that it’s considered constitutional by the justices. “We will look at what the Supreme Court was talking about in terms of old data,” Goodlatte said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’ll look at what new data is available and we will make sure that people’s freedom to vote in elections in this country is protected.”

National: Senate committee debates if voter-ID, early voting effectively curbed voter fraud | TribLIVE

Senate Democrats and Republicans sparred on Wednesday over whether voter ID laws, attempts to purge voter rolls and restrictions on early voting were legitimate efforts to stop fraud or were Republican strategies to hold down Democratic votes. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and former Gov. Charlie Crist — a onetime Republican who recently turned Democrat — said Florida Republicans aimed their efforts at Hispanics and blacks. They cited as one example the elimination of early voting on the Sunday before the Nov. 6 election. He said members of those groups historically vote after church services.

National: Democrats Set Stage for Supreme Court Defense of Voting Rights Act Provision | PBS NewsHour

With the Supreme Court set to hear a challenge to a main provision of the Voting Rights Act in February, advocates argued Wednesday that the November elections only underscored the need for the law and its protections of minority voting rights. The high court will hear a challenge by Shelby County, Ala., that the so-called “pre-clearance” portion of the act, which requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get approval of the Justice Department before making changes to their voting rules, is unconstitutional. But opening a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he was concerned even before Election Day about a “renewed effort in many states to deny millions of Americans access to the ballot box through voter purges and voter identification laws,” adding, “what we saw during the election shows that we were right to be concerned. Purges of voter rolls, restrictions on voter registration, and limitations on early voting…led to unnecessary and avoidable problems.”

National: Florida Sen. Nelson: GOP disenfranchised voters |

Senate Democrats and Republicans are sparring over whether voter ID laws and restricted early voting are attempts to disenfranchise African-American and Hispanic voters. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who recently became a Democrat, said their state’s Republican Party deliberately tried to suppress the vote from those groups.

Florida: Charlie Crist trashes Gov. Rick Scott in Senate hearing over bad voting ‘joke’ |

In a prelude to a long and bitter campaign, former Gov. Charlie Crist pointedly criticized Gov. Rick Scott during a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday over an elections law that led to voting troubles and helped turn Florida into a “late-night TV joke.” Crist’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony came just hours after a new poll showed he’s more popular than the current governor, who is preparing to face his predecessor on the 2014 ballot. Before and since Election Day, Scott has been under fire for an elections law he signed that cut back the days of in-person early voting and increased the size of voters’ ballots, which led to embarrassingly long lines.

Florida: Former Governor Urges Congress to Consider New National Voting Standards | The BLT

Former Florida Governor Charles Crist Jr. on Wednesday urged Congress to consider new national standards to make voting easier and more accessible. Speaking at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights, Crist, who was a Republican when he was governor from 2007 to 2011 and is now a Democrat, said senators should “think long and hard” about national standards that include a “lengthy” window for in-person early voting, and other “common sense provisions.” In Florida, many people who wanted to vote early during 2012 election had to wait in lines for hours, making the state “a late-night TV joke,” he said. “I think that what all of us want are free, open and fair elections for everyone,” Crist said.

Florida: As Charlie Crist testifies before Congress on Florida’s voting problems, Gov. Rick Scott voices support for changes | Tampa Bay Times

Former Gov. Charlie Crist condemned Florida’s election law before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, accusing the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott of bringing changes “designed to encourage a certain partisan outcome.” Crist, who registered as a Democrat last week and is a potential rival to Scott in 2014, spoke of “horrifying lines” voters endured and called for a reinstatement of early voting days that were cut before the election. But a couple of hours before the hearing, Scott himself was calling for change, saying on CNN that supervisors of election need flexibility on the size of polling locations and that early voting could be expanded.

South Carolina: Ground gained to get 180 candidates back on primary ballot |

The Senate could vote as early as Wednesday to allow 180 disqualified candidates back on the June primary ballot.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure today that would allow any candidate who attempted to file an statement of economic interest by April 20 back on the ballot. The deadline was March 30. The state Supreme Court booted candidates last week who failed to file a hard copy of the statement. The Senate put the new measure on the fast track by amending it to already approved House bill. The move also overrode objections to changing the law from state Sens. Jake Knotts and Robert Ford that could have stalled efforts to reinstate the challengers in state and local races. Knotts’ decision led to a brief shouting match after the meeting with Roxanne Wilson, the wife of U.S. Rep, Joe Wilson and sister of Suzanne Moore, a candidate for Lexington County clerk of court who was ousted off the ballot.

Florida: US Senate panel to investigate Florida voting laws | MiamiHerald

A congressional panel has agreed to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s request to investigate new voting laws passed by Florida’s Legislature. Sen. Dick Durbin sent the Florida Democrat a letter Tuesday, saying that he agrees the new laws will disenfranchise a wide swath of Florida’s young, minority, senior, disabled, rural and low-income voters. Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Durbin says he is planning to hold a field hearing with his subcommittee to take a closer look at new voting laws in Florida and other states. Some of the new voting laws would reduce early voting days, impose new rules on voter registration drives and make it tougher to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.

National: Congressional hearing sought over voter ID laws sweeping states | McClatchy

Does requiring a photo ID to vote return America to the days when poll taxes and literacy tests made it hard for minorities to cast ballots? Are state lawmakers trying to make it harder for people to vote? Two top House Judiciary Committee Democrats want to know, and on Monday they asked Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to hold hearings on those laws, which have been adopted or are pending in 37 states. The chairman is reviewing the request, and he had no immediate comment.

“As voting rights experts have noted, the recent stream of laws passed at the state level are a reversal of policies, both federal and state, that were intended to combat voter disenfranchisement and boost voter participation,” said Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. Conyers is the committee’s top Democrat. Nadler is the top Democrat on its Constitution subcommittee.

National: Dick Durbin To Chair Hearing Examining Voter ID Laws | TPM

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) will chair a hearing next week examining the rash of voter ID laws passed by state legislatures this year amidst concerns that such laws could suppress Democratic turnout across the country.

Durbin, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, announced Friday that the Sept. 8 hearing will feature testimony from Judith Brown Dianis, the co-director of the Advancement Project; Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levittl; and former Bush-era Justice Department official Hans van Spakovsky, who’s now with the Heritage Foundation. It’s titled “New State Voting Laws – Barriers to the Ballot?”