Last night, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran narrowly defeated Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel, in part by courting black voters. “Voting rights has been an issue of great importance in Mississippi,” Cochran said yesterday.
Black turnout increased significantly in yesterday’s runoff election, which helped Cochran win by 6,000 votes. “In Mississippi’s twenty-four counties with a majority black population, turnout increased an average of 40 percent over the primary,” reported The Washington Post.
In 2006, Cochran was one of ninety-eight Senators who voted unanimously to reauthorize the temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act for another twenty-five years. But last year, Cochran applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidating Section 4 of the VRA, which freed states like Mississippi, with the worst history of voting discrimination, from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government under Section 5 of the act.
“I think our state can move forward and continue to ensure that our democratic processes are open and fair for all without being subject to excessive scrutiny by the Justice Department,” Cochran said.
Cochran was, in effect, celebrating a decision gutting a law that he supported just a few years earlier.
Today, on the first anniversary of the Shelby decision, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. Six months after its introduction in January, the new legislation to update the VRA has garnered modest bipartisan support in the House, thanks to former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), but no GOP co-sponsors in the Senate. There are nineteen Republican Senators still serving who voted for the VRA in 2006, but none have stepped forward to sponsor the new bill.
Today’s hearing illustrated the new partisan divide when it comes to voting rights. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee and three civil rights advocates who testified—Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia, Georgia NAACP president Francys Johnson and NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill—unanimously supported the modest VRA fix. “If the Voting Rights Act is not modernized, you are effectively ending the Second Reconstruction of the United States,” Johnson said.