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Legislative Update on Voting Rights

On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act. The Court struck down Section 4(b), which contained a formula to determine which jurisdictions with a history of disenfranchisement problems would need to seek preclearance from the Department of Justice before making changes to voting laws or procedures. In the aftermath of the Court’s decision, many states previously covered by the now invalid “preclearance” formula have tested the extent to which they can legally limit citizens’ access to the ballot box by introducing, and in some cases passing, more restrictive voting laws. These laws often have discriminatory effects on racial minorities, the poor, the elderly and students.

In the 114th Congress, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) have introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (VRAA - S. 1659/H.R. 2867). The VRAA would circumvent the Shelby v. Holder ruling by modernizing the VRA’s preclearance formula. It would also add new universal protections from the types of voting changes most likely to discriminate against people of color and language minorities, improve access to the ballot for Native Americans and Alaska Natives and promote transparency in reporting electoral information to the federal government.

Recognizing the deep roots of communal participation in politics in the Jewish tradition, the URJ and CCAR strongly support efforts to expand the vote and protect traditionally disenfranchised groups from discriminatory voting laws. Join in urging Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act to ensure that all Americans can make their voices heard at the polls.