KEY VOTE: “NO” on the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4)

KEY VOTE: House · Dec 5, 2019

Heritage Action opposes the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

This week, the House will be voting on H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, yet another thinly veiled effort by liberals to give left-wing activists new powers to undermine the integrity of our election laws. With H.R. 4, liberals will use the power of the federal government to overturn voter ID laws and prevent states from ensuring the integrity of their own elections.

This bill hijacks the Voting Rights Act by replacing the worthwhile goal of ending racial discrimination with the completely partisan goal of advancing liberal political candidates. The Voting Rights Act implemented temporary requirements on certain states and jurisdictions, known as coverage formulas, in order to end systemic racial discrimination in voting laws. Racial discrimination in our voting laws is bad and is illegal for good reason. This bill does nothing to advance the rights of minorities.

H.R. 4 overturns the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively struck down the outdated coverage formulas under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and, consequently, also gutted much of Section 5. As The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Legal Fellow Hans von Spakovsky explains, this ruling was constitutionally justified and preserved the Justice Department’s ability to act in cases of discrimination:

Section 5 was an unprecedented, extraordinary intrusion into state sovereignty since it required covered states to get the approval of the federal government for voting changes made by state and local officials… No other federal law presumes that states cannot govern themselves as their legislatures decide and must have the federal government’s consent before they act.

Spakovsky further explains why the Court found that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer necessary today:

Section 5 was needed in 1965. But as the Court recognized, time has not stood still and “[n]early 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” The systematic, widespread discrimination against black voters has long since disappeared. As the Court recognized in the Northwest Austin case in 2009: “Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”

H.R. 4 is being falsely sold as a civil rights bill, but it is simply another attempt to put state election systems under the heavy hand of the judicial branch and Department of Justice. It would accomplish this by reestablishing coverage formulas for states and jurisdictions allegedly engaging in discriminatory voting behavior under a new “strikes” system, which would trigger a review by the Attorney General under Section 5 before the state is allowed to implement changes to its election laws. The purported discriminatory behavior would include such reasonable things as voter ID laws, and the effects of this new legislation would undermine the security of our elections and water down the voices of lawful American voters.

However, the bill goes far beyond simply reimplementing Section 4 of the original Voting Rights Act in a number of ways:

  • The bill would give the Attorney General the ability to unilaterally issue “strikes” against states and jurisdictions, and the strikes would be used to subject those states and jurisdictions to federal control.

  • The bill would give any “aggrieved citizen” standing to sue in a federal district court to get an immediate enjoinment of new or existing election integrity laws.
  • The bill would give activist “civic participation organizations” the ability to appeal to the Attorney General for assigned observers over local elections on behalf of a new protected category called “language minorities.”

  • The bill would expand the definition of violations to include not just intentional discrimination but also instances of disparate impact while also establishing a “hardship” standard favoring those suing under the law.

In sum, the bill would allow left-wing activists to use the courts and Department of Justice to block any state or local jurisdiction from implementing voting requirements and practices to ensure election integrity. It would also give these bodies the ability to interfere in unfavorable political precincts and eventually federalize state and local election systems. The bill is clearly unconstitutional and breaks from the American principles of federalism and separation of powers.


An Assessment of Minority Voting Rights Obstacles in the United States
The 'Voting Rights' Partisan Power Play
The Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s Decision in Shelby County
A Response to Ramesh — No Deference on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
Voting Rights Act's 'Preclearance' Was Meant to be Temporary
Voter ID and the Real Threat to Democracy
Abusing the Voting Rights Act (pre-Shelby County v. Holder)

Heritage Action opposes the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.