Lisa Murkowski becomes first non-Democrat to endorse updated Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Advancement Act has bipartisan support. Kinda.

Lisa Murkowski, who was re-elected to the Senate via write-in after losing the Republican primary for her seat in 2010, announced Wednesday evening that she will co-sponsor the otherwise exclusively Democratic effort to restore the Voting Rights Act.

The bill would update the list of states subject to preclearance requirements — in which states that make changes to laws that affect ballot access have to be submitted to the federal government for approval — and implement a formula for determining which states are added to and dropped from the list in the future. Notably, Alaska is the only state that was subject to preclearance requirements under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that would not start out subject to preclearance requirements if the current proposal passes.

Despite this fact, Native Alaskans had been lobbying Murkowski aggressively to support the bill, as the state is not without problems relating to voting rights for its minority populations. And while the current bill doesn’t list Alaska as a state that starts out with the highest level of protection, it’s something. And that, of course, is better than the nothing that’s currently in place.

Recent iterations of the Voting Rights Act have been entirely non-controversial in the Senate, with the 2006 reauthorization passing 98-0. But that was before the Supreme Court struck down its preclearance requirements. While Congressional Republicans didn’t want to be flagged as racists if they torpedoed that part of the legislation, they know that they can now sit on their heels while effort after effort to restore the law stalls.

And as Ari Berman at The Nation notes, it isn’t exactly high on their priority list:

Lisa Murkowski, via Wikimedia Commons

Lisa Murkowski, via Wikimedia Commons

Murkowski’s announcement is a welcome sign for voting-rights advocates, who were dismayed that during the first GOP presidential debate on August 6, 2015—on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act—the topic of voting rights never came up from the moderators on Fox News or GOP presidential candidates. The 2016 election will be the first presidential election in 50 years where voters will not have the full protections of the VRA, which adds urgency for Congress to take action.

So while one (sorta) Republican does not final passage make, having Murkowski on board is a welcome sign. It’d be a sad state of affairs indeed if there wasn’t one member of the Republican caucus willing to cast a vote affirming that voting rights are a good thing that should be protected.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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