Congress Moving To Introduce Voting Rights Bill In August Or September

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Per remarks from Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), House Democrats are contemplating introducing their updated version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act this month, and Butterfield noted that if an August timeline doesn’t work out, then the bill could apparently come up in early September. The legislation was previously introduced in the last Congress and is named after the late Congressman and voting rights activist John Lewis. If enacted, it would re-impose a previously in place requirement for federal authorities to pre-authorize certain changes to the conducting of elections prior to their implementation. The hope would be to stop at least some instances of voter suppression before they start.

In a new op-ed for The Washington Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote that “the Justice Department blocked thousands of discriminatory voting changes that would have curtailed the voting rights of millions of citizens in jurisdictions large and small” while the pre-approval requirement was in place. Originally, the rule was included in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but the U.S. Supreme Court essentially set that provision aside in 2013, leaving federal authorities with less power to stop officials at other levels of government from imposing rules that amount to voter suppression.

Discussing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Butterfield — who leads the the House Administration Committee’s sub-committee on elections, commented as follows:

‘Hopefully we can get it introduced during a pro forma session during the month of August… But if the House does not return during the month of August for other reasons, then I can anticipate reasonably that we may be able to vote on this during the week of September 2, but that is not my decision.’

One hurdle to actually enacting these proposals is the filibuster. Currently, Senate filibuster rules demand the agreement of at least 60 Senators in the 100-member chamber before moving forward, including to a final vote, on most bills. This requirement for more than a simple majority to make progress allows members of the chamber’s minority party — in this case, the Republicans — to (generally speaking) band together and stop the process, even if a certain bill might eventually pass the chamber with a simple majority of the votes in favor.

Pointing to bipartisanship (among other principles) as supposedly upheld by the filibuster, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has been among those on the Democratic side sticking up for the procedure. Butterfield said that he’s “confident that Senator Manchin is committed to protecting the voting rights of voters of color in every respect,” and he added that it’s his “hope that Senator Manchin can persuade 10 of his Republican colleagues to vote for this legislation.” Getting 10 Senate Republicans onboard alongside all Senate Democrats would hit that 60-vote requirement for the bill.