People For the American Way Foundation

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: What’s in It and Why Is It Important?  

News and Analysis
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: What’s in It and Why Is It Important?  

The right to vote is a fundamental pillar of our democracy, and it’s a right that countless Americans have fought and even died for throughout our country’s history. In an effort to protect and expand these voting rights, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act has emerged as a crucial piece of legislation. Its reintroduction in Congress in September of this year marked a key moment for People For the American Way and our allies as we continue to build an inclusive democracy where everyone has the right to vote and have their vote count.   

Why Is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act Necessary Right Now? 

Named in honor of the late civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, this bill seeks to strengthen and modernize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of legislation that aimed to end racial discrimination in voting. A key legislative outcome of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the original VRA targeted states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination, particularly in the South, by implementing federal oversight of their voting practices. Key provisions, such as Section 5, required these jurisdictions to seek federal approval from the Department of Justice, known as “preclearance,” before making any changes to their voting laws. For decades, this provision helped prevent discriminatory practices such as voter suppression.  

However, in 2013, the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder effectively invalidated the preclearance provisions. This decision allowed many states to enact changes to their voting laws without federal oversight, which has led to an explosion in discriminatory voting legislation in GOP-controlled states across the country.   

What Does the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act Do? 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act addresses these concerns and reinstates safeguards to protect the right to vote for all citizens. Key provisions include:   

  • Expanding the Preclearance Requirement: The bill aims to expand the list of voting changes that would require preclearance. This would include items such as changes to voter ID laws, redistricting, and changes to polling locations.   
  • Modernizing the Coverage Formula: One of the central features of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the creation of a new formula to identify areas that require federal oversight. This formula would consider recent voting rights violations and enable the federal government to review and approve changes to voting laws in these areas.  
  • Protections Against Voter Purges: The act includes provisions to protect against wrongful voter purges, ensuring that eligible voters are not removed from voter rolls without proper cause.  
  • Enhanced Transparency: The bill increases transparency by requiring states to provide public notice of proposed changes to voting laws. It also mandates that states make information about voting changes accessible in a publicly available database.  
  • Remedies and Enforcement: The act empowers the Department of Justice to take legal action against states and jurisdictions that attempt to enact discriminatory voting laws.   

We Must Work Now to Pass this Vital Legislation 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act represents a critical step in safeguarding the voting rights of all Americans, particularly those of Black and Brown and other historically marginalized communities, who have been targeted with voter suppression measures in many GOP-controlled states across the country with almost surgical precision. People For the American Way remains committed in our efforts to build support for and ultimately pass this vital legislation, as part of our broader work to strengthen and defend our democracy.   

For more than 40 years, People For has been working to advance progressive values and defend Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Today, with authoritarianism on the rise, our work is more difficult than ever. We need the support of our members and donors to protect democracy and push back against far-right extremism. Any size contribution helps. Please show your support for People For by making a donation today.

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John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, voting rights