Fix for Voting Rights Act goes easy on voter ID

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A new bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act goes out of its way to make an exception for voter ID laws, in a bid to win Republican support. Still, voting rights advocates are expressing cautious support for the bipartisan measure unveiled Thursday—though its chances of passage are uncertain at best.

A group of lawmakers, led by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), introduced the bill Thursday afternoon. It’s a response to June’s Supreme Court ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively freed from federal oversight certain jurisdictions with a history racial discrimination. In an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court ruled that the formula – known as Section 4 – used by Congress to determine which areas were under federal supervision was outdated.

“This bill modernizes the Voting Rights Act, will restore those protections that were gutted by the court, and will ensure that every citizen has an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy,” Sensenbrenner said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

The bill aims to address Roberts’ concern directly. Its core provision is an updated formula, which would place back under federal oversight any state with five violations of federal voting rights law in the last 15 years, using a rolling calendar. That would include not just court rulings, but objections by the Justice Department. Local jurisdictions would have to commit only three violations, or consistently suffer from low minority turnout.

Currently, four states— Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas—would be under federal oversight by that standard, the lawmakers said.

“This is a modern voting rights bill to confront modern voting rights challenges,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat involved in the effort.

But Conyers said Thursday that the legislation’s chances of coming up for a vote in committee are uncertain. He said the bill would fall under the purview of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Goodlatte, according to Roll Call. “I’m not sure how this is going to play out.”

Voting rights advocates are cheering other aspects of the bill:

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