Rep. James Clyburn urges national standards in revised Voting Rights Act

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U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C,), the man House Democrats have tapped to lead their push for revising the Voting Rights Act after last week’s Supreme Court decision gutted the law’s Section 4, urged the creation of national voting standards that would likely replace the special restrictions for a bloc of Southern states under the current law.

While not ruling out a new kind of “pre-clearance” system, which had required parts or all of 15 states to get federal approval for changing their voting provisions, Clyburn said Democrats were mostly debating a new provision that would mandate every state abide by certain “minimum standards.” Clyburn said such a law, for example, might require every state have at least nine days of early voting. States could chose to have many more days, but could not have fewer than nine, he said.

Similar federal standards would apply to redistricting and ballot access concerns, such as voter ID laws, although he did not provide details.

“Section 4 needs to be written in such a way that covers any state law that is designed to yield a specific result outside of fundamental fairness,” Clyburn said in an interview, noting that many of the state voting provisions that he found most problematic were not in states covered under the pre-clearance formula the Court struck down. He added, “every state ought to be subject to some standards.”

According to Clyburn, with these federal standards, if a state passed a controversial voting law, a voter could file suit citing these federal provisions.

The comments by Clyburn, the highest-ranking black member of Congress, mirror those made last week by President Obama, who similarly suggested some kind of national voting law could replace Section 4.

It remains unclear exactly how or if Congress will decide to react to the Supreme Court’s opinion last week on the Voting Rights Act. Senate Democratic leaders said they would look to pass some kind of legislation to guard against provisions that might discriminate against minority voters, but have not detailed exactly what that would look like.

Some Republican leaders, including the No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Eric Cantor, have called for Congress to act on the issue, but others in the GOP argue the law’s Section 2, which also bars racial discrimination in voting practices, is sufficient.

The views of Clyburn and Obama on this issue are significant, but ultimately Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House must sign off on any new voting provision for it to be enacted.

Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr