Despite the Montgomery County Council’s support for a resolution asking Congress to reinstate part of a federal regulation meant to protect voting rights for more Americans, such a measure would have a hard time passing into law, according to several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation who came to Rockville on Monday to support it. The resolution proposed by Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring and supported by the other eight council members requests that Congress restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1964, which requires certain states and local jurisdictions to have their proposed changes to voting laws reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department for potential discriminatory effects.
The resolution also supports a constitutional amendment to grant the right to vote to any American citizen old enough to vote; to provide full voting rights and representation to Washington, D.C.; and supporting Maryland’s expansion of early voting and same-day registration.
The council is expected to vote on the resolution Tuesday.
Restoring the section of the Voting Rights Act would likely stand a “reasonable” chance of passing the U.S. Senate, but have a much more difficult time in the House of Representatives, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D) said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has been working members on both sides of the aisle, and several Republicans have said they’d support it, Cardin said.
But if the Republican-controlled House were to take up the issue, it would likely be combined with other issues such as voter identification laws, he said.
The issue came up when the whole Voting Rights Act was up for renewal in 2006, and the attitude was that the measure was needed, Cardin said.
The act was renewed by a vote of 98-0, but Section 4, which contains the formula for determining which jurisdictions had to have their proposed laws reviewed, was ruled unconstitutional in a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
While a bill might fare well in the Senate today, “it’s hard to see anything getting through the House,” Cardin said.
Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) called the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, “an act of great judicial arrogance.”
Congress needs to find a way to restore the section to the act, he said.
“We know that’s not going to be easy,” he said.
He noted that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is pursuing other parts of the Voting Rights Act, with the Justice Department recently intervening to block redistricting and voter identification laws in Texas.
Free and fair elections are the foundation of a democracy, and the Texas laws disproportionately affect groups such as students and minorities, Navarro said. The U.S. Constitution contains a series of amendments preventing various groups from being discriminated against, but it doesn’t contain an affirmative right to vote for the entire population, said state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, a law professor and constitutional scholar.
“We clearly need to amend the Constitution to do what the vast majority of Americans think we’ve already done,” which is to give everyone the right to vote, he said.
The resolution’s statement of support for full representation and voting rights for the District of Columbia drew an appearance from Mayor Vincent Gray, who said the District raises more than $6 billion a year in various taxes, but still has to send its budget to Congress for approval, Gray said.
He said his city has to have its decisions approved by Congress despite having a larger population than Wyoming or Vermont.
“Every local law in the District of Columbia has to go to the Congress to be approved,” he said.