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The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bill that could complicate both the next round of redistricting in Texas and a voting restriction bill that is currently being considered in the state legislature.
Known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the bill would reinstate sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act written to protect people of color. Over the past decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has repealed some of the provisions of the law.
The bill was passed along party lines, meaning that all Democratic House Texans supported it and all members of the Republican delegation opposed it.
If the bill also passed the U.S. Senate, it could put states like Texas that had a history of electoral discrimination after a process called federal pre-clearance. This would require the state to once again get federal approval of its political maps and electoral changes, such as the controversial vote restriction bill that is currently being considered in the state legislature. Prior authorization is intended to ensure that new election laws or redistricting rounds do not harm people of color.
Federal legislation is one of two bills that Texas House Democrats have been advocating since they fled to Washington, DC, in July to block the state’s voting bill that would be ready to pass. in the Republican-controlled legislature. Democratic state lawmakers pressured Congress to pass federal legislation that would replace Texas’ attempts to restrict access to voting.
The author of the federal bill, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, is a native of Selma, where law enforcement in 1965 brutally attacked the late civil rights icon the U.S. Rep. John Lewis and other civil rights activists in what is often called “Bloody Sunday.”
Sewell told The Texas Tribune that the voting bill moving through the Texas legislature illustrated the need for its legislation.
“The outrageous undemocratic attempt by the Texas legislature to erect deliberate barriers at the polls demonstrates exactly why federal oversight is so urgent,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “As states like Texas continue to assault the right to vote, we need to ensure that John R. Lewis’s Voting Rights Advancement Act is signed into law. There is no time to lose.”
The bill aims to address two U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past decade that overturned key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For four decades, a section of that law went dictate that states with a history of discrimination had to delete certain changes to elections and political maps through the Department of Justice or federal courts in a process known as prior authorization.
The federal bill could allow federal officials to closely examine changes in voting laws. This could include reductions in polling places or hours proposed in the Texas bill, which seeks to ban night-and-night voting accommodations created in Harris County last year, which were disproportionately adopted by black voters. . Texas legislation would also increase postal voting restrictions and give more freedom to partisan observers of the polls.
Republicans have defended the Texas Elections Bill as a measure of electoral integrity to protect the voting process from fraud, although there is no evidence that it is widespread.
The passage of the U.S. House federal bill on Tuesday came amid a rare ballot in August, when the House is usually in recess, underscoring the importance of this bill. law for Democratic-controlled Congress.
The bill could also require federal approval of the new redrawing of U.S. House districts in Texas, which occurs every decade after the end of the U.S. census. The Republican-controlled Texas legislature is expected to release new proposed political maps this fall. In the past, the Texas redistricting process has undergone legal scrutiny to discriminate against people of color and has been the subject of widespread litigation.
But House Republicans characterized the federal bill as an intrusion into a jurisdiction that they said should be solely in the hands of state governments.
“We’re going to deprive American voters of their right to take over voting across America,” U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican, told the House just before Tuesday night’s vote. “The Constitution reserves these provisions to the legislatures of the states. We shouldn’t do that. “
Colin Allred, the U.S. representative from Dallas, a voting rights attorney before his career in Congress, was a key strategist in pushing the bill through Congress.
Allred pointed out to reporters before the vote that one of its members, former President George W. Bush, easily passed a renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 2006 with overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress.
“Very recently, this was not a partisan issue,” he said.
U.S. Representative Chip Roy of Austin pushed a Republican counterargument to this point.
“Although measures such as prior authorization may have been necessary almost 60 years ago when the [Voting Rights Act] enacted, current levels of registration and participation make it clear that they are no longer so, ”it said in a statement.
This is a much stricter bill compared to the For the People Act, another federal bill supported by the House of Texas Democrats. The For For People Act would dramatically revise regulations on campaign funding and require independent redistricting commissions, among other measures.
Few Capitol Hill observers see any scenario in which the For For People Act will pass the Senate.
Lewis ’bill also has a tough slogan in the Senate, but it is widely seen as the voter access proposal that has the most chances in this House. Texas Democrats back in Austin were pleased with a step forward in the Lewis Act.
“Texas House Democrats are grateful to President Nancy Pelosi, the sponsoring representative of Bill Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, and to all members of Congress who voted today to protect the fundamental right of our democracy, and to speed up the passage of this bill after the work of our Caucus in Washington, DC, “Texas House Democrat President Chris Turner said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston Democrat, on Tuesday expressed optimism that the vote bill could pass in the Senate.
“There are ongoing talks between the House and the Senate … There have been many talks, many very productive conversations and therefore I am optimistic … that we will be able to see the Senate move forward,” she said.
Along with this voting bill, the House also passed a massive spending bill on Tuesday, which some Democrats called a “human infrastructure” bill. This legislation goes back to the anti-poverty policies of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and also seeks to address climate change.
Despite Democratic optimism, it is still unclear whether either bill will be passed in the tightly divided U.S. Senate.
Alexa Ura and Bethany Irvine contributed to this report.
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