It seems like virtually everyone on Capitol Hill is interested in fixing the Voting Rights Act. But who will step up and make something happen? Last year, the Supreme Court hollowed out one of the most powerful parts of the law, a formula prescribing which states and localities had to get before-the-fact federal approval of any changes they wanted to make to their voting rules. Without the formula, which had been based on historical records of discrimination, the federal government had to stop its automatic review of alterations to voting-district boundaries and other election-related guidelines. The ruling hobbled a law that for decades has offered meaningful political representation to minority Americans by preventing discriminatory tricks from limiting their access to the franchise. The decision was also an insult to Congress, which in 2006 overwhelmingly determined that the act’s provisions — all of them — remain necessary.
The only consolation is that the court did not bar lawmakers from creating a new pre-clearance coverage formula. All Congress has to do, in other words, is get its act together and fill the gap the court tore in the law. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has been trying. In the House, F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who oversaw the 2006 reauthorization of the act, has led the effort, helping to draft a sensible compromise. The proposal, which has a score of co-sponsors, would require federal supervision of any place with five voting rights violations of various sorts over a rolling time frame of 15 years.