Government and Law

The Importance of the Voting Rights Bill

The passage of the Voting Rights Act has several implications for the country’s political process, including the future of our democracy. The bill would expand the right of minority groups to vote and prohibits states and localities from drawing election districts that disproportionately disadvantage minority groups. It would also prohibit discrimination against members of “language minority groups,” including those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

John Lewis modernized and revitalized the Voting Rights Act.

In December, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Right Act (VRA). The Senate, however, has refused to take up the bill, and Republicans have praised Lewis in a recent tweet. The new version of the Voting Rights Act, dubbed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would give the Department of Justice tools to protect voting rights and make sure every vote counts. While the voting rights bill is a welcome change, the voting rights legislation needs the support of 10 Republicans. To pass the bill, it would have to receive the support of at least 10 Republicans, and some Democrats are asking for a carve-out from the filibuster rule to allow the bill to be passed.

The new law would restore the 1965 Preclearance Provision that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. This provision required the Justice Department to obtain preclearance before implementing discriminatory practices on the part of a state. It has yet to be introduced in the House but has already been heard in numerous field hearings. It is expected to be considered this fall but only has the support of Senator Lisa Murkowski.

It prohibits drawing election districts in ways that improperly dilute minorities voting power.

A recent case in Pennsylvania has shown that race-conscious districting is an utter failure. Blacks lost their congressional seats by more than a mile in one election district. Democrats argued that political gerrymandering and partisanship were stifling the voice of African Americans. In response, the Justice Department demanded proportional black representation in the government.

Vote dilution is a widespread problem that has been on the rise in recent years. Election officials in some communities have diluted minority voting power by putting minority neighborhoods in multi-member districts. In some instances, minority communities have been “cracked” into several districts and submerged into a district with enough non-minority voters to defeat the minority candidate.

Although this practice was appropriate, it has since devolved into so-called “bug-splat” districts. These districts systematically segregate black and white voters and raise 14th Amendment questions. Further, some communities have no minority population at all. So there’s a need to ensure that racial districts don’t regress on the law.

While racial gerrymandering can polarize a country, it can also significantly contribute to political polarization. With concentrations of black voters in safe black constituencies, adjacent white districts tend to become more Republican. In turn, the racial polarization of voting can be exacerbated by a lack of diversity in voting districts.

It prohibits discrimination against members of “language minority groups.”

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) protects the voting rights of “minorities,” including those of “language minority” backgrounds. These groups include American Indians, Asian Americans, and people of Spanish heritage. Numerous judicial interpretations and congressional amendments have colored the Act’s provisions. For example, in the San Francisco case, the court held that the San Francisco school district failed to provide meaningful opportunities for Chinese students who did not speak English.