Republican Congressman Mike Coffman of Aurora quietly has signed on as a co-sponsor of a measure that would restore some protections in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the U.S. Supreme Court three years ago.
The congressman’s name on Sept. 13 will be added to a list of 107 co-sponsors of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, says a spokesperson from the office of Wisconsin Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, who wrote the measure and introduced it in February of 2015.
Coffman now joins his Democratic colleague, Rep. Diana DeGette, as the only other member of Colorado’s congressional delegation backing the measure.
The news comes as Coffman runs for re-election in a district where the demographics have changed significantly since he was first elected in 2008. After the latest round of gerrymandering in 2012, one in five residents in the district is now Latino and 15 percent are foreign-born. In the past few years, Coffman has tried to soften his image with immigrants, a shift for a conservative congressman who signed onto legislation to make English the nation’s official language, and who once said Spanish-speaking voters should “pull out a dictionary” if they can’t understand their ballots, among other slights.
Asked in two separate emails when Coffman became a sponsor, his spokeswoman Cinamon Watson did not answer, nor did she respond to a request to talk about it on the phone.
Sponsored by Sensenbrenner and Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the measure is a response to a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that gutted the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.That ruling said it is now OK for nine mostly southern states to change their election laws without having to first get those changes cleared by the U.S Justice Department.
The measure, officially titled H.R. 885, would restore federal preclearance of election laws in parts of the country where there has been evidence of discrimination in the past 15 years. It also requires more transparency around changes in voting laws.
The Colorado Independent learned of Coffman’s support for the measure after asking his campaign if he still supports repealing portions of the Voting Rights Act that require bilingual ballots to be provided in areas that include large portions of voters who are not proficient in English.
During his 2014 reelection campaign, Coffman said, “I think that bilingual ballots should only go to people who need them. It’s a question of saving money.”
Asked last week whether Coffman still holds that position, his campaign spokeswoman Watson did not answer directly. Instead, she said, “Rep. Coffman is co-sponsor of H.R. 885, the Voting Rights Amendment Act.”
The measure currently counts 15 Republican lawmakers as co-sponsors, according to its public bill-tracking web page at Congress.gov. As of Sept. 12, Coffman’s name does not appear, and the last congressman to sign onto the law was Ryan Costello, a Republican who was added on July 14. Costello is up for re-election in the swing state of Pennsylvania.
“The co-sponsor list will be updated tomorrow [Sept. 13] to include Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado,” said Nicole Tieman, spokeswoman for Sensenbrenner. “That will be the only change to the best of my knowledge.”
Coffman is battling Democratic State Sen. Morgan Carroll for the 6th District congressional seat, which wraps around the suburbs of Denver.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 still awaits hearings in committee.