WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives of leading civil rights organizations testified in two U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearings yesterday about the need to expand and strengthen the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and to address other elections-related concerns. MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz was among those testifying.
Saenz appeared first at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee. In his testimony, Saenz told committee members of the urgent need for passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA – H.R.4) to protect against widespread efforts to dampen Latino and minority election participation. He highlighted the need and addressed the constitutionality of “Known Practices Coverage,” a new, supplemental test, originally proposed by MALDEF, to require pre-clearance of particular elections-related changes in racially diverse jurisdictions nationwide.
“Congress has waited too long to act in response to the Supreme Court’s elimination of the pre-clearance coverage formula in the VRA, and in the meantime, new threats have developed to the right to vote,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “The Senate leadership remains an obstacle, but our nation must move forward to make available the efficient and cost-effective alternative dispute resolution mechanism of pre-clearance to address troubling issues affecting voting rights.”
Part of H.R. 4 would include updating Section 5 of the VRA to require administrative or judicial review of changes in election processes based on the discriminatory history of certain voting changes employed when a jurisdiction is racially or ethnically diverse. The new formula, “Known Practices Coverage” would target election practices with a history of violating voting rights for pre-clearance under Section 5. Known practices coverage would be applied in any part of the country that is sufficiently diverse.
The presidential elections in 2020 will be the second without the full protections of Section 5 of the VRA, and the 2021 redistricting cycle will be the first to take place without those protections. H.R 4 is expected to be voted on by the end of the year.
In a second hearing before the Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration, Saenz emphasized to lawmakers the importance of investigating and acting against practices that would target and deter participation by naturalized-citizen voters in the Latino and other communities.
“Today congress members heard about the barriers that voters of color face and the role Congress can play in protecting the right to vote for every American,” said Andrea Senteno, MALDEF Regional Counsel for DC. “Congress must pass legislation to ensure that known electoral practices that have historically been weaponized against newly emerging or newly mobilized minority communities’ do not continue to be used in diverse jurisdictions to stymie the growing political power of an increasingly diverse American electorate.”
View the hearings:
- Hearing on Legislative Proposals to Strengthen the Voting Rights Act, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
- Hearing on Voting Rights and Election Administration in America, Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration.