House Democrats passed legislation Tuesday meant to bolster the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, though the measure is likely to stall in the Senate.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late civil rights leader and longtime Georgia congressman, was approved 219-212 along party lines, with no Republican support.
The bill would order the Justice Department to police new changes to voting laws in states that have racked up a series of “violations,” drawing them into a mandatory review process known as “preclearance.” The practice was struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court, which ruled the formula for determining which states needed their laws reviewed was outdated and unfairly punitive — though it did not prohibit Congress from coming up with a new formula.
Progressive activists have sought to restore preclearance to counter recent changes to election laws in Republican-led states like Georgia and Texas. Democratic Party leaders, including President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have compared the recent spate of law changes to voter suppression acts enacted in the Jim Crow South.
Pelosi made the Jim Crow comparison again on the House floor Tuesday, describing state GOP efforts as “dangerous” and “anti-democratic.” The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) claimed that “while literacy tests and poll taxes no longer exist, certain states and local jurisdictions have passed laws that are modern-day barriers to voting.”
While the John Lewis Act would not apply to most state election laws enacted since the high court’s ruling, it could neutralize them if enacted alongside the For the People Act — the other massive election reform bill pushed by House Democrats.
Republicans have derided both pieces of legislation as an “unnecessary” bid by Democrats to give themselves a near-insurmountable advantage in future elections.
“I hope my colleagues and the American people will see this bill for what it is: a partisan power grab, which circumvents the people to ensure one-party rule,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said on the House floor Tuesday.
Other House Republicans called the debate a waste of the chamber’s time, given the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
“Thousands of Americans [are] stranded in Afghanistan, fearing for their lives, and Democrats are focused on passing legislation to make sure states can’t require photo ID,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) declared.
“If there’s any moment in time to put an election aside, if there’s any moment of time to put politics aside, I would have thought today was this day,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) chimed in.
With the Senate evenly divided, the legislation would need 10 Republican votes to overcome the 60-vote legislative filibuster. Progressive activists have called on Democrats to scrap the filibuster, but have been frustrated by the refusal of moderate senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to even consider the idea.
It’s also not clear that the legislation passed Tuesday would earn the support of all Democratic senators.
One provision in the bill would ban many types of voter ID laws, including those already on the books. That’s at odds with Manchin, who has spent weeks working with Senate leadership to develop a more narrowly focused alternative to the For the People Act. Manchin has specifically called for a voter ID standard that would allow people to use a document like a utility bill.
With Post wires