Civil-rights advocates are selling a bill amending the Voting Rights Act as a wholly bipartisan fix and saying it will pass this year, despite the partisan divide over voter-ID laws and other voting-rights issues. “It will pass this Congress,” said Scott Simpson, spokesman for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which has advocated for an update to the law. “If anything can pass this Congress, it’s this.” The bill would revive a portion of the Voting Rights Act that gives the Justice Department final say on all changes to elections—from voter-ID laws to polling place relocations—in states with a history of discrimination. The provision, known as the “preclearance” requirement, was included in the Voting Rights Act in 1965, but the Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down its outdated method of choosing which states would be placed under that requirement. Rather than choosing states based on discrimination in the 1960s, the new formula would be based on voting-rights restrictions in the last 15 years, and would be updated after every election.
The bill’s backers have made a concerted effort to present it as a bipartisan solution. Reps. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., paired up to become cosponsors on Feb. 6. Other cosponsors include the House’s most conservative and liberal lawmakers, according to National Journal’s 2013 rankings: Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio and Mike Honda of California, respectively.
The efforts to make the bill transparently bipartisan may be necessary, considering the bitter divide over the preclearance requirement and voter-ID laws. The preclearance requirement applied largely to conservative states—13 of the 15 states affected had Republican governors at the time of the Supreme Court ruling. And Democrats have argued that ID requirements are meant to suppress the vote of minorities, the poor, and the elderly.