House Democrats Have a New Plan to Restore the VRA

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On Election Day last Tuesday, members of the House Democratic Caucus held a press conference to launch a new strategy for passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 – a bill that would restore portions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013.

Rep. Terri Sewell, D. Ala., who represents Selma, called for every Tuesday to be Restoration Tuesday and include a #RestoreTheVOTE social media push, floor speeches about the need to restore the VRA, and an open call to constituents to share their own stories about modern-day barriers to voting.

“While we no longer have to count marbles in a jar or recite the names of all the counties, there are still laws and decisions that make it harder for people to vote. To restrict the ability of any American to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process,” Sewell said last week. “My hope is that by launching #RestoreTheVOTE, we gain grassroots support for restoring the right of every American to vote. In order to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act we must get everyday Americans to care and demand congressional action to protect voting rights. We cannot silence ANY voices within our electorate. We must RESTORE THE V.O.T.E. — the VOICES OF THE EXCLUDED!”

Sewell’s call wasn’t left unanswered. Dozens of House Democrats, in addition to the Twitter accounts of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, were engaged. And Sen. Patrick Leahy, D. Vt., who introduced the Advancement Act in the Senate, also participated.

On the House floor, Reps. Joyce  Beatty, D. Ohio, and James Clyburn, D. S.C., who’s also the Assistant Democratic Leader in the House, spoke about why this effort was needed – especially in the context of Election Day.

“When the United States Supreme Court invalidated key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, it invited Congress to update the formula that determines which jurisdictions should be covered,” Clyburn said during his floor speech. “Unfortunately, while Congress has failed to act, we have seen jurisdiction after jurisdiction all across this country attempting to erect impediments to the right to vote.”

“It’s Election Day in Ohio,” Beatty said. “Right now, my constituents are casting ballots to decide their next local, state, judicial elected officials. Participating in our democratic process is not only a right. But it is a duty. Unfortunately for many Americans, voting recently again became more difficult in 2013.”

If Congress doesn’t act, voters in 2016 will face the first presidential election in 50 years without the VRA’s full protections.  In a video promoting Restoration Tuesdays, Rep. John Lewis, D. Ga., who was beaten on Bloody Sunday in 1965, made that point – that even 50 years later, the struggle continues. “The fight for voting rights is not over. The Supreme Court made a bad decision. They’re trying to take us back,” he said. “That’s why we must continue to press on.”