Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley does not have high hopes for the voting rights bill that passed the U.S. House in a party-line vote on Tuesday.
Democrats say the legislation, named for the late Georgia Representative John Lewis, is designed to safeguard voting rights, but Grassley, a Republican, disagrees. “It would be a roundabout way of forcing almost every election law change in the country to be subject to federal okay,” Grassley says, “and that would be a very bad thing to happen.”
Supporters say the measure would restore important elements of the Voting Rights Act that were thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Grassley says the Lewis bill would force state legislatures to get “preclearance” from the U.S. Justice Department for almost any change in election laws.
“This thing is usually sold on the proposition that any change in state law somehow does something about voter suppression,” Grassley says, “and most often voter suppression is saying that the states are attacking African American voting.” Grassley makes a comparison to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, before which, only about six percent of the blacks in Mississippi cast ballots. “In the last election in Mississippi, 73% of black voters voted and of the white voters, only 64% voted,” Grassley says, “so to sell this bill as a way to stop suppression of black voting is just intellectually dishonest.”
The Lewis bill passed the House on a close vote, 219 to 212, and it’s not expected to advance in the Senate.