A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would restore protections in the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court last year.
"It is unbelievable, it is almost unreal that we were able to come together so quickly to craft a compromise that both Democrats and Republicans can find a way to support and move forward," said Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
The legislation would rewrite the formula that decides which localities and states must get federal approval before changing their voting laws – the piece of the law that the court struck down as unconstitutional, leaving it essentially toothless.
Before the Supreme Court ruling, nine states -- mostly in the South -- and numerous municipalities with a troubled history of voter discrimination were required to get federal approval before they changed their voting laws.
The proposed legislation would state that all states and jurisdictions are subject to the same standard: If they have a clean record with no voting violations over the past 15 years, they don't have to ask the federal government for approval to change their laws. But if they have a certain number of voting violations over the last 15 years, they have to get a thumbs up from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia first.
The bill is bipartisan, with Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner joining Democrats Rep. John Conyers, Sen. Patrick Leahy in introducing the legislation.
Sensenbrenner said the bill is “constitutional, nationwide in application and will allow states to enact reasonable voter ID laws.”
At this point, the future of the bill -- whether it would come up for a vote at all in either chamber -- isn't clear. But backers say they are optimistic and that they have the support of some high-profile conservative House members.
"This is something that I believe will get passed," Leahy said.