House Democrats push voting rights amendment

Willie Grace | 1/22/2015, 2:05 p.m. | Updated on 1/22/2015, 2:05 p.m.
The move is one of several efforts by House Democrats to address concerns about voting rights being curtailed in many ...
Rev. Jesse Jackson

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined House Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison and Mark Pocan at a press conference on Thursday to announce plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would explicitly guarantee the right to vote to every American and give Congress the power to protect that right.

Jackson said the United States was one of only 11 nations that does not explicitly enshrine a citizen's right to vote in its constitution and argued that gun owners effectively had more rights than voters.

"We have the ironic situation, after the Heller [Supreme Court] decision, that Americans have a fundamental individual right to a gun, but not a fundamental individual right to vote," Jackson said.

The move is one of several efforts by House Democrats to address concerns about voting rights being curtailed in many states after the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, outlawed a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required certain states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls "preclear" any changes to voting laws with the federal government before implementing them. It's now up to Congress to revise the law so that it meets constitutional muster.

"Republicans have no interest in working to strengthen the Voting Rights Act and we need to take action," said Pocan. "We need to have an affirmative right to vote amendment that allows individuals affected by restrictive voter ID laws to more effectively be able to challenge these laws and to establish a minimum standard for voting rights."

Julie Fernandes, senior policy analyst at the Open Society Foundations, said the voting rights situation had gotten worse in many states since the Shelby decision.

"Now minority voters across the country are more vulnerable today to having their right to vote compromised than they have been since 1965," Fernandes said.

The bill has 25 co-sponsors - all Democrats - and it faces a tough road even getting to the floor in the House, but Ellison was not conceding defeat.

"We know one thing: Every single amendment that's been passed after the Bill of Rights has been passed because Americans just wouldn't stop pushing for more rights for people," he said. "We're gonna be optimistic and believe that people are going to do the right thing and we're gonna give them every opportunity to do so."

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