What Does the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 Mean for California?

On January 16th, Congress introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 — a modern-day bill to strengthen voter protections nationwide. The bill is in response to last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that invalidated a critical part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA): the coverage formula that determined which states and political subdivisions were subject to the law’s preclearance requirement.

Although much of the discussion around proposed revisions to the VRA has focused on states that were subject to the Section 5 preclearance provision prior to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, it is important to remember that modernizing the VRA ensures that every eligible Californian is afforded a real and meaningful opportunity to participate in California elections.  The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) has been a powerful and critical tool in the ongoing fight against vote suppression and discrimination in California, where racial, language, and ethnic minorities continue to face huge barriers to participation in our democracy.

The new bill includes important provisions like a rolling preclearance formula that will cover jurisdictions with recent, egregious voting records, requiring voting changes be preapproved; an expanded judicial bail-in provision; an enhanced ability for plaintiffs to obtain preliminary injunctive relief for some voting changes; and requirements for jurisdictions to provide public notice of proposed voting changes.

A problematic provision in the bill we will seek to have improved treats violations arising from voter ID laws somewhat less seriously from other voting rights violations. The bill also fails to include more robust protections for minority and language minority citizens who are subject to highly-suspect voting changes. This should be addressed as the legislative process moves forward.

The National Commission on Voting Rights is giving voters an opportunity to testify about their voting experiences at the statewide hearing on the State of the Vote in California at UC Hastings on January 30th. At this hearing, they will receive testimony on ongoing voting rights and procedural barriers in order to evaluate the continued need for strong federal voting rights protections in California. Voting rights experts, academics, and elections officials from across the state will testify regarding the barriers to participation that Californians face, the applicability of the Voting Rights Act in California, and the need to restore the VRA. The testimony voters give will become a part of the federal record supporting the new amendment. The ACLU of California and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay are among the many voting rights and civil rights organizations sponsoring this event and we encourage the public to participate in this hearing.

Dolores Huerta, President, Dolores Huerta Foundation and Co-Founder of United Farm-Workers of America (UFW), will be in attendance as a National Commissioner. California Guest Commissioners include  Kathay Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause; Alice A. Huffman, President, California-Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP; Cruz R. Reynoso, (ret.) Justice of the California Supreme Court and Professor, U.C. Davis School of Law.


WHAT: National Commission on Voting Rights, California Statewide Hearing

  • Panels – There will be formal panels of witnesses representing voting rights organizations, community leaders, election officials, and other stakeholders. Witnesses are encouraged to submit written testimony in advance of the hearing. The panel of commissioners will also receive the testimony orally and may ask follow up questions.
  • Public Testimony – There will be opportunities throughout the event for California voters to testify about their experiences. The Statewide Hearing is nonpartisan, free, and open to the public; food and refreshments will be provided. The Hearing will also be accessible to the public in Spanish.

WHEN:    Thursday, January 30, 2014, 9:00-4:00 p.m. (registration starts at 8:30 a.m).

WHERE:  UC Hastings College of Law (Louis B. Mayer Room)

198 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Sponsors and Supporting Organizations Include:

Altshuler Berzon

American Civil Liberties Union of California

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles

Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP

California Common Cause

California-Hawaii State Conference NAACP

California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF)

Disability Rights California

Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)

Morrison & Foerster LLP

National Action Network

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund

O’Melveny & Myers LLP

The James Irvine Foundation

The Greenlining Institute

UC Hastings College of Law, Center for State and Local Government Law


blog-votefeet-500x280For more information about the National Commission on Voting Rights or to RSVP, please visit: cahearing.lawyerscommittee.org