It seems almost impossible to listen to the news without heated updates on the on-going tug-of-war about voting rights and legislation proposed around it.
If the sweeping Voting Rights Bill the House passed in March overcomes the hurdles in the Senate to become law, it would reshape American elections. The bill, known as H.R.1 is a very ambitious piece of legislation which most likely faces serious challenges – all the way to the Supreme Court. Some of the key elements would:
- End felon disenfranchisement.
- Require independent commissions to draw congressional districts.
- Establish public financing for congressional candidates.
- Order presidential candidate to disclose their tax returns.
- Address dark money in political advertising.
- Restructure the Federal Election Commission.
Constitutional Challenges. The more outspoken voices opposing the bill, call it a “frontal assault on the Constitution” and “the most comprehensively unconstitutional bill in modern American history”.
Some make the argument that the Constitution broadly leaves how to administer elections to the states. It specifies that “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof”.
The clause’s next phrase, though, allows federal lawmakers to override most of the power granted to state legislatures: “But the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing senators” and it quickly becomes tremendously more complicated as one dives further into the intricacies of constitutional law.
John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Another piece of voting rights legislation in the works is the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act”. It seeks to restore a key provision (the law’s section 5) of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court had eliminated in 2013 by a 5-to-4 vote (Shelby County v. Holder). Section 5 required states with a history of voter discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing voting procedures.
It’s safe to say that these bills are facing drawn-out negotiations and that we will hear a lot more about it before any of these bill might become law. One of the more difficult jobs voters have is to inform themselves about legislation that might impact them and their rights; to evaluate what is and what isn’t in their interest. The opinions of law makers and voters are clearly diverging on this topic, and it comes down to the individual voter to speak up for what they want.
Track it. Following a bill moving through congress isn’t for the weak-hearted – and tracking congressional legislation isn’t and easy job. It is possible to follow the bills’ progress on the congressional website Congress.gov.
Learn more about the status of bills here:
Politico, The National Review, New York Times, Library of Congress