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What is Congress doing to protect voting rights after Shelby?

The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby left it up to Congress to update the formula that decides which states need preclearance from the federal government before they make changes to their election laws.

But Congress hasn’t made those changes yet.

In January 2014, a bipartisan group of legislators including Reps John Conyers (D) and James Sensenbrenner (R) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, which proposes a new coverage formula for Section 4. The bill would do the following:

  • Require jurisdictions with a recent record of repeated Voting Rights Act violations to preclear election law changes
  • Expand the current “bail-in” procedures, which allow courts to subject jurisdictions to preclearance
  • Create a uniform requirement to inform voters of certain pending voting changes
  • Enhance the ability of lawyers to halt discriminatory election measures before they can harm citizens
  • Allow federal observers to monitor elections to ensure compliance with laws protecting the rights of Americans who speak limited English

The Senate held just one hearing on the legislation, and the House refused to hold a hearing, so the bill stalled. It was reintroduced in the House in February 2015. Until this bill or another one with an updated formula for Section 4 of the VRA is passed, all the states that previously required preclearance are free to alter their elections laws without federal approval.

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