Klobuchar and Ellison call for Voting Rights Act update

DFL Rep. Keith Ellison (right) and DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar hold a news conference to discuss their push to change the Voting Rights Act. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar and DFL Rep. Keith Ellison say they want Congress to make changes to the Voting Rights Act, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated a key portion of the law.

The court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last week that required nine states to get federal approval before making changes to election law. The court, however, did say Congress could create a new formula for the Act as long as it was based on current data.

Advocates for African Americans and voting rights groups worry that the law could prompt southern states to implement laws that make it harder to vote. Any changes could be challenged in court but the big change would be that the election could still go into effect until the court acts.

It isn’t certain whether Congress can agree on creating a new law, given that Congress is sharply divided on a number of issues.

“This is an awesome challenge, given the political reality,” Ellison said.

Ellison said he is hoping that a bipartisan group of lawmakers will come together to draft a new law. Ellison and Klobuchar held their news conference in north Minneapolis this morning, flanked by voting rights advocates and members of the African American community.

“We should debate over taxes. We should debate over public spending. We should debate over war and peace,” Ellison said. “But we all should be united in the belief that everybody has a right to vote.”

Both Ellison and Klobuchar offered broad guidelines on what they want to see in a new law. Ellison suggested that including several more unspecified states in the northern part of the country could be added into a law that requires the federal government to approve election law changes. Klobuchar wouldn’t say whether she thought the new law should continue to require some states to get federal approval before changing election law.

“We need to look at all of the facts. I would assume that it would,” Klobuchar said. “But again, I’m a prosecutor. I always look at the evidence first so I’ll want to see what we have and then go from there. But we do know is that there are severe problems in some states.”

Klobuchar and Ellison also say they’d like to see the federal government require every state to allow for same-day voter registration.