Protect Voting Rights!
Late last week, a key piece of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced in both chambers of Congress. The bipartisan bill represents a significant step in protecting voting rights for all Americans.
Why was the bill necessary?
On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act, a law that was drafted in part at the RAC in the early 1960s. The Court struck down Section 4(b), which contained a “formula” requiring certain jurisdictions with a history of voter disenfranchisement to seek approval, or “preclearance,” from the Department of Justice when making changes to election procedures. In the aftermath of the Court’s misguided decision, many states previously covered by the invalidated “preclearance” formula have tested the extent to which they can legally limit citizens’ access to the ballot box, by introducing, and in some cases passing, restrictive voting laws. These laws often have discriminatory effects on racial minorities, the poor, the elderly and students. Yet the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision left the door open for Congress to update the preclearance formula.
What does this bill do?
On January 16th, Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would, among other provisions:
- Create a new preclearance formula to replace the one that was struck down;
- Make it easier for courts to subject jurisdictions to preclearance;
- Require communities to notify the public when making changes to voting procedures;
- Allow courts to stop voting rights changes before an election if they seem likely to be discriminatory;
- Allow the Justice Department to put election observers in place if there is likely to be racial discrimination at the polls.
These are essential steps. We also hope that Congress will explore strengthening some of the provisions without diluting bipartisan support for the bill.
The right to vote is fundamental to American democracy and Jewish tradition teaches us that the selection of leaders is not a privilege but a collective responsibility. Hillel taught, “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:4) and Rabbi Yitzchak taught that “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 55a).
It is the duty of all who cherish democracy to ensure that all eligible citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted. The Reform Jewish Movement has for the past century strongly supported legislation that protects the rights of all citizens to be free of discrimination in their efforts to exercise the right to vote, and will continue to do so today by advocating for this must-pass legislation.
Urge your Members of Congress to support the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (S. 1945/ H.R. 3899) today!