Reform of the Voting Rights Act received bipartisan support at a Senate Judiciary Hearing on Wednesday. The hearing, which was held to consider how to respond to the Supreme Court decision striking down the formula that named which states had to submit voting law changes for preclearance, was the first time the Committee heard testimony following the decision.
City Commissioner Luz Urbaez Weinberg of Aventura, Florida was among the first to testify, emphasizing the need for bipartisan support for reform.
“The Voting Rights Act protects not just Latinos but all voters statewide,” she said at the hearing. “Whether to maintain the Voting Rights Act is not a partisan issue, it’s non partisan.”
Urbaez Weinberg cited what she called “hundreds of unfortunate repeated attempts” to change voting rights laws in a way that would disenfranchise voters. One example she mentioned was the disenfranchisement of voters registered through third parties.
“Latinos are more likely than average to become registered voters through third parties,” she said. After a bill was passed to limit third party registration, several organizations suspended their voter registration operations. Although some provisions of the law were later blocked, voter registration dropped by 35 percent according to Urbaez Weinberg.
“The focus needs to remain on the fact that this is an American issue,” she said.
The Puerto Rican Commissioner talked about her own family political affiliations to highlight the diversity of Latino voters and the need to preserve everyone’s right to vote. She and her two children all have different political views, with her son registering as a Democrat and her daughter as an Independent.
“Latinos…sometimes we speak English, Spanish and sometimes Spanglish. But first and foremost we are Americans and we take part in the electoral process. We see it as nonpartisan, nonracial and non language dependent priority,” Urbaez Weinberg said.
The Florida Commissioner was not the only Republican to call for reform at the hearing. Key GOP lawmaker, Rep. George Sensenbrenner, warned that Congress now has its “last chance” to rewrite the law to meet the high court’s demands. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in 2006, Sensenbrenner oversaw the extension of Section 5 to passage.
He warned that rewriting a new coverage formula would be more difficult than reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006.
Still, not everyone at the hearing was on board with restoring a formula. Former Reagan administration Justice Department official Michael Carvin also testified before the panel and said he had doubts that Congress could and should fix the formula. Carvin said that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is still in place which he believes has done more than Section 5.
“Section 2 is a very muscular provision,” he said.
A House Judiciary Committee panel is set to hold its own hearing on the Voting Rights Act on Thursday.