Crucial Things About John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

Across the country, states have been putting up barriers to voting. We need national standards to protect our democracy and ensure all Americans can vote without discrimination.

Democrats have introduced legislation to address these threats, called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It would revive the preclearance provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.

What is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act?

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is federal legislation to respond to the wave of state-level voter suppression tactics enacted since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The legislation would restore and modernize provisions of the VRA that have been left vulnerable after the Shelby County decision.

It would require states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain approval from the federal government before changing voting laws. The bill also provides a process to expedite the review of smaller changes, such as moving a polling place, which is usually implemented with little time for public scrutiny.

The legislation would help ensure that every citizen has the opportunity to participate in our democracy. This goal is shared by city leaders across America who see the need to support this essential and bipartisan bill. But opponents of the bill rely on misinformation and a rehash of old criticisms about the Voting Rights Act to keep it from passing.

Why is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act so important?

Across America, people are still struggling to exercise their most fundamental right. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would help combat the overt and covert barriers to voting faced by voters of color and those who speak a language other than English.

The bill would restore protections from the Voting Rights Act that were gutted in the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County vs. Holder. It would ensure states with a history of discriminatory voter suppression are subject to federal oversight and requires every state and local jurisdiction that has recently enacted voting laws with disproportionate effects on communities of color to obtain Federal approval before implementing or enforcing them.

It also amends Section 2 of the VRA to remove the heightened standard for showing that a law disproportionately impacts minority voters and makes it easier to demonstrate that a voter suppression measure is racially discriminatory. It would also allow individuals on Indian tribal lands to collect and drop off ballots for other voters who cannot get mail at their homes and protect voters from unjust voter purges.

The Leadership Conference is proud to join with more than 200 national organizations in supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the companion For the People Act, which will set minimum standards for voting rights that guarantee that all Americans can vote freely and without discrimination and that their elected leaders reflect the full diversity of our country’s communities. The bill’s passage ensures that our democracy works for everyone.

What is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act’s impact?

Eight years after the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore protections by updating the coverage formula and ensuring states with histories of discrimination are still subject to federal oversight.

This bill would require states and localities with a history of disenfranchisement to obtain approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes that might restrict voting, such as strict voter ID laws or closing polling locations in communities with large numbers of people of color.

This bill would also make it easier for advocacy groups to file an enforcement action. Currently, only the Attorney General can file an enforcement action under the preclearance provisions of Section 5, and it has long been one of the most controversial aspects of the VRA. This legislation would allow any aggrieved citizen to do so, as well.

An array of civil rights and election reform organizations backs the bill. However, whether the Senate can pass this bill with a simple majority remains to be seen. Despite bipartisan support, Republicans have blocked a vote on the bill for over 225 days. They continue to cite misinformation and regurgitate the same criticisms they’ve used against the VRA for decades. If Congress wants to restore the law, it must stop blocking this bill.

What is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act’s solution?

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would reassert the power of the federal government to curb states from passing voting laws that discriminate against voters. The bill, named after the Georgia Congressman who served as a civil rights leader and champion for the freedom to vote for all Americans, does this by restoring critical protections that were gutted in the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder (2013) decision and more recently in the 2021 Brnovich v. DNC decision.

This legislation restores what was struck down in Shelby County. It adds new coverage by requiring jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to seek federal preclearance before changing their voting laws, such as reducing early voting hours or adding onerous voter ID requirements. It also strengthens the legal framework for challenging these laws in court by restoring Section 2 and updating its definition of “disparately burdensome” voting rules.