POLITICS
10/08/2015 12:05 pm ET

Jeb Bush Opposes Reauthorizing The Voting Rights Act 'As Is'

He thinks it helped 50 years ago, but isn't necessary now.

WASHINGTON -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said Thursday that he opposes reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights law whose protections the Supreme Court watered down in 2013.

"There's been dramatic improvement in access to voting. I mean exponentially better improvement," the presidential candidate said in Iowa. "And I don't think there's a role for the federal government to play in most places, there could be some, but in most places where they did have a constructive role in the '60s. So I don't support reauthorizing it as is."

In a 5-4 decision two years ago, a conservative majority of justices struck down a key provision of the 1965 law that designated which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government. This stipulation applied widely to states in the South, where changes to voting laws have historically worked to keep low-income and minority voters away from the polls. The court, however, wrote "things have changed in the South."

One major issue with Bush's statement is that even the law's advocates don't want to reauthorize it exactly "as is."

Multiple attempts to restore the law's protections have been rejected by Republicans in Congress. As a way to address the court's objections, Democrats have introduced bills in Congress seeking to update the formula used to determine which states require federal approval before updating voting laws. But that legislation, too, has failed to receive a vote.

Bush's contention that access to voting has improved "exponentially" is also questionable. Since 2010, when Republicans won a large majority of state houses across the country, civil rights groups have been fighting a wave of new voting restrictions called up under the auspices of voter fraud. Most recently, a federal appeals court ruled Texas’ restrictive voter ID law violates the Voting Right Acts and has a discriminatory impact on voters.

Bush's opposition to reauthorizing the law sets him apart from his brother. Former President George W. Bush renewed the law in 2006 and said it "helped bring a community on the margins into the life of American democracy." He further promised that his administration would "vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court." 

The presidential candidate doesn't hold the best record on voting rights. While governor of Florida, he attempted to remove felons from the state's voting roll before the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The botched "voter purge" resulted in thousands of eligible voters being disenfranchised. 

Watch video of Bush's answer above.

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