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Three members committed to voting rights have now introduced legislation that creates a new formula in the act. The authors are Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and John Conyers, D-Mich., and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Five or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 calendar years would trigger preclearance. It’s instructive that even under this relaxed standard, Texas would require preclearance, along with Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Smaller political subdivisions within states trigger preclearance if they have at least three voting rights violations in the previous 15 calendar years or one violation and “persistent, extremely low minority turnout” in those 15 years.

It is an imperfect formula. Violations based on voter ID laws will not count - to make the bill more tolerable for Republicans. This is tantamount to saying all crimes count against a felon except one of his most egregious. Courts are a proper setting for determining when a measure violates rights.

But even as is, this proposed formula improves on the wreckage left by the Supreme Court. It also improves the act’s Section 3; preclearance can occur whether or not the violation is intentional.

The Voting Rights Act should be able to block discrimination before it is inflicted.

Congress should approve this new formula.


Waco Tribune-Herald. Jan. 21, 2014.

Legislation to revamp and update Voting Rights Act worthy of support

In a statement issued by U.S. Rep. Bill Flores about the appropriations bill signed into law late Friday, he acknowledged that he had reservations about some aspects of the bill but believed the good outweighed the bad. That’s how we view legislation announced late last week to revamp key parts of the Voting Rights Act, fixing what the U.S. Supreme Court says needed fixing.

And if that puts Texas back on the short list of states needing federal pre-clearance- well, blame our state leaders and the way they bungled what should have been far better laws in terms of voter photo ID and redistricting.

Last June, the Supreme Court scrapped Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, making the justifiable case that the act has lately used data as old as four decades in deciding which states must gain pre-clearance from the federal government on election law changes or redistricting. The majority of justices said the law was fine, but that the formula to decide which states were meeting the law’s intent badly needed updating. Fair enough.

Bipartisan legislation proposed last Thursday on Capitol Hill would restore this law’s critical anti-discrimination protections while, too broadly in our opinion, allowing for voter ID laws - often more regulatory than they need to be. It also would require states with five voting violations in the past 15 years - at present, the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia - to again jump through pre-clearance hurdles for the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, it also would allow such states to be freed of such restrictions after 10 years of good behavior - which we see as real incentive for states such as Texas to clean up their act.

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