Civil Rights Leaders Want Action on Voting Rights Amendment Act

Inaction, they warn, will lead to voter discrimination.

Posted: 05/15/2014 04:40 PM EDT
Civil Rights Leaders Want Action on Voting Rights Amendment Act

Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (Photo: Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times /Landov)

The leaders of a diverse group of civil rights organizations are calling on what has increasingly become a "do-nothing" Congress to do something about the Voting Rights Amendment Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year.

"Our request is simple but urgent," Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said at a Thursday press conference. "Give this bill the benefit of a full-throated congressional debate."

Despite bipartisan support and 22 co-sponsors, how willing the House GOP leadership is to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote is unclear. Ideally, says Henderson and other civil and voting rights leaders, a bill will be passed before the midterm elections in November. Inaction, they say, puts some voters at the risk of being disenfranchised.

"Every day that Congress fails to act, voters are in danger," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau. "Since the Supreme Court's decision last June striking down a key element in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, states and localities have brazenly pushed forward potentially discriminatory changes to voting, such as changing district boundaries to disadvantage some voters and moving polling locations in areas with high concentrations of minority voters. Failure to advance this legislation is a free pass to voter discrimination."

The leaders of several national civil rights and other organizations have sent a letter to Reps. Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee's chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, urging them to push the legislation through the legislative process in a timely manner. In addition several have met with House leaders, which Henderson says has left them feeling optimistic.

Although there are fewer than six months before the midterms, if passed, Henderson added, the legislation could have an immediate impact.

"It will provide a basis for examining changes that have taken place at the state level that could be problematic – not in just in the revised formula determining which states would be subject to pre-clearance, but also because of other requirements of the bill that would build upon the fact that states that change their procedures within 180 days of an election have to provide ample notice to their citizens so the citizens will know what changes have been made," Henderson said. "We think that those provisions, the notice provisions, the need for transparency and to talk about what changes have been made will have a very positive effect."

Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.

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