On Tuesday afternoon, a briefing in the U.S. Capitol examined modern voting discrimination in the United States and the urgent need for passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). The VRAA is bicameral legislation introduced in January to update and modernize the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and to protect voters from the discrimination that persists nearly 50 years after it was originally passed.
It has been more than a year since the Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, invalidated a key section of the VRA that provided extra scrutiny to places with a history and contemporary record of restricting access to the ballot based on race.
The panel included introductory remarks from Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and was moderated by Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel at The Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C., office. The panel included Deborah Vagins of the American Civil Liberties Union, Tanya Clay House of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Erin Hustings of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).
Austin-Hillery guided an open conversation about voting discrimination still prevalent today and how the VRAA would help to combat it. As she said, “It is what you do at the ballot box that speaks most loudly about how you feel.” While Hustings and Clay House spoke specifically to current examples of voting discrimination – including what the Lawyers’ Committee found in its series of nationwide hearings earlier this year – Vagins outlined the provisions of the VRAA, emphasizing that it is geographically neutral and constantly updating itself – adjustments created to respond directly to the Shelby ruling. “When all these provisions operate together,” Vagins said, “we would have a robust way to protect our citizens.”