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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    House passes voting rights bill with Texas in its sights

    House passes voting rights bill with Texas in its sights

    Benjamin WermundDec. 6, 2019 Updated: Dec. 6, 2019 6:24 p.m.
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    WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Friday passed a sweeping overhaul of the Voting Rights Act aimed at combating voter suppression efforts in states including Texas — as the state prepares for what could be its most consequential elections in decades.
    Democrats cited a slew of efforts by Texas officials — including requiring government-issued identification to vote, purging voter rolls and pursuing criminal charges against voters with errors on registration forms — as evidence of the need to bolster the Voting Rights Act, one of the Democratic majority’s signature pieces of legislation.

    The bill would once again require states and local jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get pre-approval from the federal government to pass new voting laws or make changes to the election process, essentially reversing a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that got rid of so-called preclearance.


    Texas would almost certainly be subject to it again under the legislation. A recent federal report said Texas has violated the Voting Rights Act more than any other state in recent years.

    "No longer will cynical politicians in states with dark histories of discrimination have the green light to freely continue their systemic suppression campaign," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor.

    But that’s likely as far as the bill will go. It passed Friday on a party line vote — a sure sign it stands no chance in the GOP-led Senate — and President Donald Trump has vowed to veto it if it ever reaches his desk.


    The effort by Democrats comes as Texas prepares for what many expect will be its most fiercely contested elections in decades in 2020, with control of the state House on the line and the party energized by victories in 2018 and Trump atop the GOP
    ticket.Republicans voting against the bill, including virtually all Texas Republicans, said it doesn’t go far enough to ensure elections are conducted in a “legal way” and that the legislation opens the door to “federalizing even state and local elections.”


    “Our only objection here is the way this goes about it,” U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, said on the House floor. Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee that oversaw the legislation, said the bill “could actually have adverse effects across the country, especially if people wanted to really mess with our voting system and play it for political gain.”


    U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Houston-area Republican said the bill “deceptively uses the pretext of civil rights legislation as a Trojan horse to elevate federal power over the constitutional right of states to preserve the integrity of their elections.”


    The bill, which is the culmination of months of hearings, including a field hearing in Houston, has broad backing from civil rights groups.


    Under the legislation, states and their political subdivisions would be subject to preclearance for 10 years if they’re found to have violated voting rights 15 or more times over the past 25 years. If the state itself committed any of those violations, the bar drops to 10. Political subdivisions would have to get preclearance if three or more voting rights violations occurred there during the past 25 years.

    “We need preclearance in Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat whose district stretches from San Antonio to Austin. “Republicans have aggressively, illegally purged voting rolls. They eliminated mobile voting to quash especially student and senior voters. They enacted a cumbersome voter ID law. And they horribly, illegally gerrymandered our state.”
    Among other things, the bill also expands the circumstances under which the Department of Justice may assign election observers.

    And it requires states and political subdivisions to notify the public of changes to voting practices.


    A Judiciary Committee report released with the bill says that after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which ended preclearance, “a deluge of voter suppression laws were passed across the nation.” Within 24 hours, it says, Texas and North Carolina “moved to reinstitute draconian voter identification laws, both of which were later held in federal courts to be intentionally racially discriminatory.”


    That was just the beginning. The report slams Texas for a long list of things, an effort earlier this year to purge 95,000 people from the voter rolls, on the grounds that they appeared not to be U.S. citizens
    .

    State officials later admitted that the vast majority of those flagged for removal from the rolls were in fact legally registered. The report says the committee heard from witnesses in Texas who described discrimination and hostility toward voters of color by election judges and polling officials, delayed opening of polling sites in neighborhoods with high populations of minorities, late changes to polling locations, as well as intimidation by state troopers and harassment of African-American voters by vigilante groups.


    The report cites Pasadena’s shift to at-large districts, which a federal judge deemed deliberately violated the voting rights of its Hispanic population, as well as Waller County limiting early voting time at Prairie View A&M, which led to a federal lawsuit.


    “Unfortunately, Texas has been a center,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat. “It just goes right to the heart of the democratic process — everyone should be able to cast their ballot. That is a privilege and a right of citizenship, but it’s also a responsibility of citizens and the only way our government of, by and for the people can function.”

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