Back from recess, the House of Representatives voted to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill passed 219-212, with no Republicans crossing over to support voting rights.
First introduced in 2019, the bill was renamed for John Lewis shortly after his passing. The earlier version of the bill passed in December 2019 wiht a vote of 228-187 with one Republican voting with Democrats.
The law took on renewed Importance post-2020 election, with false claims of non-existent voter fraud and other unfounded claims spurring hundreds of voter suppression laws being introduced across the country. Introduced in Congress as H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is considered a part of a package of democracy reforms being promoted by advocates.
Along with D.C. statehood and H.R. 1/S.1 – the For the People Act, the John Lewis bill would strengthen access to Democracy and provide space for true multiracial equity in practice. “Creating a just, equitable multiracial democracy requires actively working to ensure all Americans can vote,” read a statement from the progressive think tank Dēmos. “In addition to the For the People Act and D.C statehood, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is a critical democracy reform bill that will move us toward that ideal. The Senate must now do what it takes to take up and pass this critical bill.”
Introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was tweaked to include provisions that would address the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee as well as the damage done by Shelby v. Holder. In a letter ahead of the House vote, the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights outlined the clear need for H.R. 4 – The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Highlighting instances of “current discrimination,” the Leadership Council said Congress needed to update the preclearance formula and adopt several amendments to ensure full participation to the political process for everyone.
“The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act fills a distinct and critical role in protecting the freedom to vote and ensuring elections are safe and accessible,” reads the letter. “When it comes to our elections, we all want an open and transparent process we can trust, where Americans have equal freedom to vote, whether we live in a small town or big city, or the coasts or the Midwest.”
Fifteen years ago, the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act had broad bipartisan support. The bill passed 390-33 in the House and a unanimous 98-0 in the Senate. Things have changed with the bill narrowly passing the House along party lines.
“Restoring preclearance and strengthening Section 2 of the original Voting Rights Act would undo much of the damage from the Brnovich and the Shelby County rulings,” read an analysis from the Brennan Center.
The filibuster poses the same challenge to the VRAA in the Senate as the For the People Act. To truly protect voting rights and American democracy, advocates maintain that Congress must pass both bills. Calls to pass voting rights legislation and abolish the filibuster have broad support outside of Congress.
Voting rights advocates and concerned citizens have been holding regular actions in the District of Columbia, with many making regular calls to the members of Congress to support voting rights legislation.
But this Saturday, August 28, there will be major actions happening in the District of Columbia and major cities across the country. Groups will be gathering for the Make Good Trouble Rally and the March On For Voting Rights, both taking place on the anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington.
“While the fight to protect voting rights remains a priority for us, we recognize that there are many factors at play today that impact each other,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter, in a statement. “The social, economic, and political challenges that we face all intersect, and those most gravely impacted are far too often Black people and other communities of color. But as we know through our work, there is power in solidarity. It is in that spirit that we come together to rally around these issues because no one will fight for our people like we will.”