This week the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) was reintroduced in Congress. The bill, named after the civil rights icon John Lewis, will be critically important in pushing back the rising tide of recently enacted voter restrictions and rebuilding the robust voter protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The legislation would update preclearance provisions requiring states and local jurisdictions that have a history of discriminatory voting practices to submit any proposed changes to their voting laws to the Department of Justice for review and preclearance. The Supreme Court struck down the preclearance provisions of the VRA in 2013 in its disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision.
Now we have an opportunity to right some historic wrongs and help ensure everyone can exercise their right to vote. While the legislation faces an uphill battle in the current Congress, we must act. Here are five reasons we must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and continue making progress on voting rights.
1. Voting Rights Are Being Systematically Attacked
Ten years ago, the Supreme Court gutted important parts of the Voting Rights Act, and that contributed to an onslaught of oppressive voter suppression measures. Currently, at least 29 states have passed 94 bills directly targeting the right to vote. It probably comes as no surprise that these bills disproportionately affect Black, Brown, and other voters of color, as well as other historically marginalized communities.
States like Alabama, which has recently gotten itself into hot water all over again by refusing to correct its discriminatory congressional maps, have seen widening racial gaps when it comes to voter turnout. The white-Black voter turnout gap nationwide reached a staggering 11% in 2022, the largest it’s been since at least 2000. The attempts to disenfranchise Black, Brown and other voters of color are as real as they are blatant, and they shine a spotlight on the need for strong legislation to prevent and remedy systemic attacks on voting rights.
2. The Attackers Won’t Stop Themselves
The jurisdictions that enact voter restrictions have proven time and again that they cannot and will not guarantee equality in voting. States like Texas continue to enact restrictive voting laws that often must be challenged in court. Texas is one of the states that previously would have required preclearance on changes to voting laws, along with Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia.
The VRAA provides the tools necessary to address discriminatory voting practices nationwide before they’re able to wreak havoc on voters. It’s a proactive way to prevent further deterioration of voting rights in states that are still working against the interests of voters even today.
3. Voting Rights Are Vital to Democracy
In order to have a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people, the people have to be heard. Without full voter equality, marginalized communities are left voiceless and subject to the whims of those in power.
Decades ago, we understood the harm done by denying full voting rights, and we used the Voting Rights Act to attempt to mitigate that injustice. Today, we’re seeing a similar erosion of voting power with multiple states engaged in discriminatory redistricting or passing laws that undermine access to the ballot. We need the VRAA to help repair the damage done by recent voter suppression efforts and help reignite the promise that everyone can enjoy equal access to the ballot box and a vote that matters.
4. Authoritarianism Is On the Rise
The Far Right has been attempting to chip away at social progress for some time using stacked courts, dark money influence, gerrymandering and any other tactic it can get its hands on. And attacks on voting rights are central to the dismantling of the social progress we’ve made over recent decades.
From reproductive freedoms to LGBTQ equality, racial equity, and everything else that impacts our lives in this country, voting is how we make our collective voices heard and stand up for what we believe in. Without the right to vote and have our votes count, we lose the opportunity to drive society forward through collective action. For authoritarians who oppose progressive victories, voting is one of the biggest obstacles standing in their way.
5. History is Watching
This year’s introduction of the VRAA coincides with the 10-year anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder. That’s 10 years of seeing precisely how insistent the Far Right is about denying the right to vote whenever possible. What will we say in another 10 years if we fail to push back?
The Voting Rights Act has a long history of bipartisan support because people across the political spectrum have appreciated how fundamental voting is to our country. In fact when the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized in 2006, it passed 98-0 in the Senate. Despite challenges and opposition, the current Congress can and must join the majority of citizens who support new voting rights legislation and solidify voting rights for future generations by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
You Can Join the Fight for Voting Rights
To get involved and stand up for voting rights, become a member of People For the American Way today. We’ve been working to protect the right to vote for more than 40 years, and we couldn’t do our vital work without the support of our members. Please consider donating to help keep the fight for voting rights alive.