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Democrats G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Marcia Fudge of Ohio at a House Administration field hearing in May on alleged voting discrimination in Florida. Republicans disputed the Democrats' conclusions.

Another partisan turn in the standoff over Voting Rights Act

House Democrats are continuing their push for stronger voting rights protections, releasing findings this week from a series of 2019 field hearings across the country on impediments to voting.

The 144-page report released Wednesday concludes that "the fundamental right to vote is under attack" and calls for congressional action.

But the report, prepared by the Democrats on a House subcommittee with jurisdiction over elections policy, does not include any of the views of minority Republicans, who said in a separate statement that they disagree with the Democrats' conclusions.

The usual practice in Congress is to include dissenting views in all committee reports, so the breakdown of that process is further evidence of Capitol Hill's ever more harshly partisan tone in general and its recent approach to voting rights in particular.


For decades, there was solid bipartisan support for perpetuating the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 law hailed as one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement. But all that changed six years ago after the Supreme Court effectively toppled a crucual pillar of the law, the requirement that the Justice Department or a federal court give advance approval to any changes in voting rules or laws in places with histories of voting discrimination.

The landmark 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder held that the method for deciding the places subject to this "preclearance" was based on unconstitutionally outdated evidence — but that Congress was welcome to come up with an updated system

In order to collect fresh evidence of ongoing voter discrimination, Democrats reconstituted the Elections Subcommittee of the House Administration Committee when they took control of the chamber this year. The Democratic chairwoman, Ohio's Marcia Fudge, then began conducting field hearings in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Thursday's report catalogued a variety of problems, including purging of valid voters from registration rolls, cutbacks in early voting, polling place closures and onerous voter ID requirements.

But in a separate document, the panel's top Republican, Rodney Davis of Illinois, says that despite the Democrats' efforts, they have "not produced a single witness that was unable to vote in the 2018 election."

The minority report also criticizes the partisan nature of the hearings and of the report, and points out that the House Judiciary Committee was farther along in carrying out a similar mission. Last month it approved a bill, proposed in February, to revitalize the preclearance requirement by adopting a new set of bad-actor standards. In other words, the GOP wrote, "It appears the Democrats had a solution in mind before the fact-finding process even began."

Even if the measure passes the House, the Republican-controlled Senate almost certainly would not consider it, so no new preclearance rules are in store before the 2020 presidential election.

The legislation says a state would be subject to preclearance if there were 15 or more voting rights violations in the last 25 years or 10 or more voting rights violations in the last quarter century when one of those was committed by the state itself.

Under that formula, 11 states including the four most populous — California, Texas, Florida and New York, plus Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — would be subject to preclearance, according to an analysis by Facing South, a media platform for the Institute of Southern Studies.

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The House on Friday passed legislation to restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The bill would require advance approval of voting changes in states with a history of discrimination. Here President Lyndon Johnson shares one of the pens he used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Passage of historic voting rights law takes a partisan turn

In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.

The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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Big Picture

TV stations fight FCC over political ad disclosure

Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.

With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.

This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.

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1952 Eisenhower Answers America

On TV, political ads are regulated – but online, anything goes

Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.

With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.

I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.

Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.

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