WASHINGTON, D.C. — While Georgia is embattled in voting rights and voter suppression arguments, the state’s U.S. Representatives stayed with their parties in a crucial vote Friday to restore voter protections.
In a 228-187 vote, House Democrats won the passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The bill package would restore voting protections that were dissolved when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 six years ago. The first Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent discriminatory voting procedures.
The new legislation would require states and municipalities to get “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department before implementing new voting policies such as voter-ID laws, polling location closures for adjusting electoral maps.
Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins led efforts on his side of the aisle to strike down the legislation. Collins has become the Republican face of impeachment proceedings as a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Collins argued on the floor that some sections of the original laws are still in place and the bill would “federalize” state and local elections.
“The Supreme Court has made it clear that this type of federal control over state and local election is unconstitutional,” Collins said, “because Congress can only do that when there is proof of actual discrimination which is what the bill is supposed to be about.”
Voting in Georgia is making national news with voter purges and high rates of polling closures being alleged as various forms of voter suppression.
The state’s new electronic voting system is at the center of its own legal battles — voting rights advocates criticizing various aspects of the voting overhaul.
But Collins used Georgia’s high turnout of minority voters in the 2018 elections as an example of how discriminatory policies are already doing enough.
“Voting rights are protected in this country, including my own state of Georgia, where Latino and African American voter turnout has soared,” Collins said. “... Full protections are afforded under the current federal law to all of those with valid claims of discrimination in voting. Unfortunately, the bill before us today would turn those federal shields that protect voters into political weapons.”
The bill will also impose stricter “pre-clearance” rules on states with a history of discriminatory practices.
Democrats capitalized on the nationwide wave of voting rights debates after the 2018 elections to draft and introduce the new voting rights legislation.
"The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society,” U.S. Rep. John Lewis said before the vote. “And people must be able to use it."
A historic civil rights leader, Lewis sat in the chair to gavel the final vote. Lewis tweeted after passage that the bill is a step forward in a time when many steps are being taken backward.
“There are forces in America today trying to take us back to another time and another place, but with the passage of this bill, we're saying we're not going back,” he wrote. “We're going forward.”