Voting Rights Activists Want to Know: Is the Amendment DOA in Congress?

June 25 will mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Posted: 06/18/2014 05:14 PM EDT

Nearly one year has passed since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act and directed congressional lawmakers to find a modern-day solution to address discrimination at the polls. In response, Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and John Conyers (D-Michigan), who sit on the House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-New Hampshire) have crafted the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014.

Truth be told, while the VRAA has received bipartisan support, it is far from enthusiastic and has not received a hearing in the House or the Senate. Voting and civil rights activists also agree that it is not a panacea, but it is better than nothing, they argue, and could have an immediate and positive impact if signed into law.

The bottom line, said Wade Henderson, who heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, is that "if you don't vote, you don't count." He and other leaders who participated in a Capitol Hill press conference on the issue said they want to ensure that as many minority votes as possible are counted in November.

They are losing patience as the bill sits in limbo and have in recent weeks begun to apply pressure to lawmakers to push the bill through the legislative process.

Leahy has scheduled a June 25 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss the bill. That same day, activists plan to hold a rally at the Capitol urging Congress to act swiftly.

Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said she also plans to put pressure on Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, but she isn't optimistic.

"[Republican leadership] is not inclined at this point to bring [the bill] to the floor [for a vote]; they see no urgency. Quite frankly, they are playing politics with this bill and do not want to bring it to the floor before the election," Fudge said. "Unless we make them, they are not going to do it."

The Ohio congresswoman, speaking very frankly, suggested that Republican lawmakers are actually more inclined to disenfranchise voters outside their base.

"They don't want anybody that they think won't vote for them to vote. They don't want people of color, they don't want the poor, they don't want immigrants," she said. "So of course you have an immigration bill that they don't want because they figure that's more voters against them. And you have a voting rights bill. They don't want either to pass because they're afraid that they will lose. But they don't realize they've already lost by disenfranchising the American people."

Fudge and other leaders also are urging their constituents to join the battle to get the amendment passed.

"The looming risk of voter disenfranchisement threatens our democracy," Lorraine Miller, interim president of the NAACP.

She cited a recent report from the Brennan Center, which found that seven of the 11 states with the highest Black voter turnout in 2008 now have new restrictions in place. That's also true of nine of the 12 states that experienced the biggest boost in their Latino population from 2000-2010.

Miller said that her organization has issued a call to action that includes pushing lawmakers to support hearings and a vote on the legislation but also enlisting registered voters to work with senior citizens and first-time voters to ensure they have the requisite documentation and identification to ensure they can register cast ballots this fall. It also is calling on faith leaders to educate their congregations about the importance of participating in all elections.

"This is a critical time to act," Miller said. "Failure to act gives a free pass to voting discrimination."

Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.

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