The Importance of the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act in Protecting Voter Rights

The John Lewis Voting Advancement Act, or V.R.A.A., would modernize and restore critical protections in the 1965 Civil Rights Act. It would update the coverage formula and address the recent proliferation of discriminatory anti-voting measures passed in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and Brnovich v. D.N.C. (2021) when the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act. It addresses the Supreme Court decisions halting the preclearance process and making it harder to challenge discriminatory voting laws in court.

Voter Registration

In a time when Black and Brown voters are confronting an aggressive rash of anti-voting laws across the country, Congress must act to defend our democracy. The H.R.C. Foundation supports two measures currently under consideration in the Senate — H.R.H.R. 4 and the John Lewis voting advancement act — that would make it easier for Americans to vote, reverse state-level efforts to restrict voting access and strengthen protections for voters from discrimination.

The law seeks to reinstate necessary safeguards from the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court severely limited in its rulings in Shelby County v. Holder and, more recently, Brnovich v. D.N.C. in 2021. Requiring that states and localities with a history of discrimination acquire preclearance from the Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting procedures improves voters’ capacity for self-defense.

The bill also provides more robust tools to combat other forms of voter suppression, such as gerrymandering and dark money in elections. It requires campaigns to disclose foreign financial sources, mandates paper ballots, bans coordination between super PACs and candidates, and boosts transparency by making it easier to identify anonymous contributions. It also allows citizens to register to vote at their state and local offices and by mail, expands early voting, and makes it easier for individuals receiving public benefits to get a free voter identification card.

Voting by Mail

The John Lewis, Voting Advancement Act, would repair many of the harms caused by the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision halting Section 5’s preclearance requirement and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decisions compromising the ability to challenge discriminatory laws in federal courts. This legislation includes a new formula that states with histories of voter discrimination must receive approval from the federal government before enacting voting changes that affect people of color.

Across the country, voters have been putting up with needless barriers to their right to vote. Many of these barriers impose an unnecessary burden on communities of color and deter people from casting their ballots. These challenges include restrictive voter I.D.I.D. requirements, disproportionately low mail-in, and early voting rates, and egregious efforts to keep people from casting their votes, such as re-registering people who’ve been purged from the rolls or imposing excessive restrictions on the ballot by mail.

Despite these barriers, millions of Americans have exercised their right to vote and made their voices heard in the most critical elections in our nation’s history. Congress must restore and strengthen our democracy so that the right to vote remains in the hands of the people. We proudly stand with Congressman Sarbanes and many of our fellow co-sponsors on the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act.

Voting in Person

When voters go to the polls, they want a secure, accessible, and fair vote. But voter rights are under attack with an intensity not seen since the Jim Crow era. Self-serving state legislatures and dark money groups have brazenly pushed forward discriminatory changes to voting laws, like changing district boundaries to disenfranchise voters, expanding voter purges, and demanding new forms of identification that disproportionally target communities of color.

Fortunately, Congress can combat these attacks on democracy with the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act. By requiring states with a track record of racial discrimination in voting to seek Department of Justice approval before making any changes to their elections, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act would once again serve its intended purpose.

The John Lewis, Voting Advancement Act, would revise the coverage formula based on a finding of racial discrimination in voting but on a rolling time frame so that jurisdictions whose record is clean can eventually move out of preclearance. In addition, the bill makes it clear that federal courts are to consider a wide range of additional evidence in reviewing these cases, including a host of data and information about the community being impacted by the change.

The House and Senate are poised to pass this legislation to help combat efforts to restrict access to the ballot box, but they need your help now. Contact your senator today and ask them to support the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act.

Voting at the Polls

Before the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, African American men were routinely denied their constitutional right to vote. State officials employed Jim Crow laws, including literacy tests, moral character qualifications, property ownership requirements, and poll taxes. These laws disproportionately prevented African Americans from voting and served as the primary means of keeping power in the hands of white leaders.

The John Lewis Act aims to reinstate critical elements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013.

 It would create procedures for private parties and the federal government to challenge laws that have the effect of diluting minority voting power. It also requires states with a history of discriminatory practices to submit voting and election law changes to the Justice Department for “preclearance.”

These measures will help ensure that every eligible citizen can cast their ballot, free from undue obstacles. They will expand same-day and early voting, protect people with disabilities from onerous identification requirements, penalize deception and suppression in elections, and address gerrymandering.

Unfortunately, Republicans have used partisanship to turn the John Lewis Act into a political issue and stall progress in our democracy. This bill has received overwhelming support in the House and Senate, and its passage should be a priority for Congress before the midterms.