WASHINGTON — Republican congressional leaders “should be ashamed” of their record on voting rights laws and should stop blocking Democratic proposals to reduce discrimination at the polls, Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin said Wednesday.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., whose role in the civil rights movement has made him an icon for voting rights supporters, Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., led a group of Democratic senators and representatives who denounced the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a major section of the Voting Rights Act during a briefing on voting discrimination.
The high court ruled unconstitutional a part of the law that set the formula for requiring states with a history of voting discrimination to have voting changes be approved by the federal government.
Lewis said that the Voting Rights Act had made “a great deal of progress” but that after the Supreme Court ruling voting rights have gone “backward.”
“In the past few months and years, I have traveled across the country and I know that there is a deliberate, persistent, systematic effort to make equality more difficult,” Lewis said.
Durbin said that he has traveled to various states, including Ohio and Florida, and met with election officials on both sides of the aisle who said that genuine voter fraud is extremely rare. Voter fraud concerns have been cited by lawmakers who want more restrictive laws.
“Let’s call this for what it is,” Durbin said. “This is about suppressing the vote.”
The Democrats said their legislation, which has some GOP support, cannot get to a vote in the Senate due to GOP leadership opposition.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., supported national same-day voter registration legislation, and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., argued for her Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, which offers a modernized formula to replace the one ruled unconstitutional. Sewell said that her model, which looks for five or more statewide offenses since 1990, finds 13 states — including Alabama and Louisiana but also New York and California — guilty of repeated voter discrimination.