Most Americans support Voting Rights Act 

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By Wesley Juhl

There is bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act, even in the South, according to a poll commissioned by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Americans broadly support the VRA and oppose the changes made as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer, which struck down a key provision of the law.

The organization surveyed 800 likely 2016 general election voters and found more than eight out of 10 supported the VRA. Only 6 percent of respondents opposed it.

Support for the law in terms of preventing voter discrimination based on race is strong among voters of all political parties and races, including 81 percent of white voters.

“Republicans in Congress readily acknowledge that voting discrimination is a problem, yet they still have refused to restore the VRA,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Now voters head to the polls in November with potentially discriminatory voting changes left unchecked.”

Restoring the VRA also garnered strong support in the poll. More than two-thirds of voters favored the proposal, and the support comes from both sides of the aisle – 84 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans sampled would like to see new legislation to amend the VRA.

The court struck down Section 4, the provision of the VRA that required some states to get an OK from the federal government before they could change election laws, including new redistricting plans. Most of these states were in the South.

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The majority opinion in the court’s 5-4 ruling said that the South had evolved, and targeting certain states was unconstitutional.

But the data show that 71 percent of Southern voters favor the proposal to fully restore the VRA and 62 percent strongly favor it. Only 11 percent of respondents opposed the proposal.

“It vexes us that Republican leadership is opting to be on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and as we can confirm today, the wrong side of the American people,” Henderson said.

The phone survey was conducted in July and used oversamples of minorities as well as voters in North Carolina and Ohio. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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The Supreme Court decided to hear multiple cases related to voting rights this term and their decisions may have an effect on their ruling on the VRA last summer.

That includes two cases from Alabama alleging the state’s Republican-controlled legislature engaged in racial gerrymandering and packed the state’s minority communities into a handful of supermajority state legislative districts.

A federal court told Virginia on Tuesday to redraw its congressional districts because the state packed too many black voters into one district and should have divided those residents among more than one district.

Alabama state Rep. Jim McClendon, R-St. Clair and Shelby counties, was the House chairman of redistricting. The legislature worked hard to make sure minorities were represented, and the Democrats are just trying to get their way, he said.

Democrats are just mad because Republicans control the legislature for the first time in more than 100 years, he said.

“The Republicans were satisfied with the plan, and the Democrats, I think, were dissatisfied with the Republicans,” he said.

McClendon said the new state legislative districts being challenged preserve the same number of minority residents as they did before and the plan and added another district with a majority of minority voters.

He said the big picture is that blacks in Alabama are about 25 percent of the population and make up about 25 percent of the legislature.

“The plan we came up with is representative of the population,” McClendon said. “I don’t see them having much of a case.”

Wesley Juhl is reporter with the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire. He can be reached at

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